- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 21, 2005


High-dose folic acid pills — providing as much of the nutrient as 2.5 pounds of strawberries — might help slow the cognitive decline of aging.

So says a Dutch study that’s the first to show a vitamin could really improve memory.

The research, disclosed Monday at a meeting of Alzheimer’s researchers, adds to mounting evidence that a diet higher in folate is important for a variety of health effects. It’s already proven to reduce birth defects, and research suggests it helps ward off heart disease and strokes, too.

The new study doesn’t show folic acid could prevent Alzheimer’s — the people who tested the vitamin didn’t have symptoms of that disease.

But as people age, some decline in memory and other brain functions is inevitable. Taking 800 micrograms of folic acid a day slowed that brain drain, reported lead researcher Jane Durga of Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

In the study, 818 cognitively healthy people ages 50 to 75 swallowed either folic acid or a dummy pill for three years. On memory tests, the supplement users had scores comparable to people 5.5 years younger, Dr. Durga said. On tests of cognitive speed, the folic acid helped users perform as well as people 1.9 years younger.

That’s significant brain protection, with a supplement that’s already well known to be safe, said Johns Hopkins University neuroscientist Marilyn Albert, who chairs the Alzheimer’s Association’s science advisory council.

“I think I would take folic acid, assuming my doctor said it was OK,” Dr. Albert said. “We know Alzheimer’s disease, the pathology, begins many, many years before the symptoms. We ought to be thinking about the health of our brain the same way we think about the health of our heart.”

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