Folic Acid: A Shield Against Alzheimer's?
Here's another plug for broccoli and leafy green vegetables: The folic acid they contain may help reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. A new study published yesterday in the Archives of Neurology, which followed the diets of 965 seniors for six years, found that those who had the highest intake of the nutrient from both food sources and supplements were least likely to develop the disease.
Folic acid (also called folate) is a B vitamin that plays a key role in helping the body make DNA and RNA. Along with vitamins B6 and B12, it also helps the body process the amino acid homocysteine. Researchers believe elevated levels of homocysteine may increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's, so the theory goes that people who take more of these three vitamins could reduce their homocysteine levels and thus expect to reduce their risk of developing the disease.
This study only partially supports that theory, however. While it found a correlation between folate and Alzheimer's, it didn't find a link between Alzheimer's and increased levels of either B6 or B12. "Maybe the folate has a role that is independent of homocysteine," says lead author Jose Luchsinger, an assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center. "Maybe we should be looking at other pathways."
Researchers note that more study is needed before people pin their hopes on folate. At least one study has found that higher levels increased the risk of Alzheimer's, and some research has found a link between B6 and B12 and Alzheimer's risk, while Luchsinger's did not. "This is a complex problem, and there are conflicting reports," says Luchsinger. "We have to be very cautious." But it's certainly safe to keep eating those vegetables.