October 4, 2005

High homocysteine tied to lower mental ability

By Megan Rauscher

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - In older people, higher blood
levels of homocysteine are associated with lower mental
functioning, new data indicate.

Homocysteine, an amino acid that has been tied to heart
disease and stroke, can be lowered with folate and vitamins B6
and B12. The latest finding suggests to researchers that B
vitamin supplements may help prevent homocysteine-related
cognitive decline.

"My concern," Dr. Merrill F. Elias of Boston University
told Reuters Health, "is that many physicians still do not
routinely include homocysteine determinations as part of the
physical examination."

The latest data come from the Framingham Offspring Study,
the ongoing survey that's tracking the health of successive
generations living in the Massachusetts community.

For people over age 60, Elias and his colleagues report in
the American Journal of Epidemiology, increasing levels of
total homocysteine in the blood were associated with decreasing
levels of cognitive performance in several areas.

"None of the individuals in the study had experienced
stroke and none were demented, but multiple cognitive abilities
were adversely affected by increasing levels of homocysteine,"
Elias said.

"Most importantly," he added, "none of the relations
observed were seen for persons under 60 years of age,
suggesting that interventions to lower homocysteine early in
the adult life span could prevent even modest cognitive deficit
related to higher levels of homocysteine."

It is also noteworthy, Elias said, that high vitamin B12
levels correlated with better cognitive performance.

Results of ongoing clinical trials, the researcher added,
"hold much promise that treatment with folate, vitamin B6, and
vitamin B12 may result in lowering of homocysteine."

SOURCE: American Journal of Epidemiology, October 1, 2005.