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Optimum Folate and Vitamin B12 Levels Essential for Cognitive Function in Seniors

Folate and vitamin B12, two important nutrients for the development of healthy nerves and blood cells, may work together to protect cognitive function// among seniors, reports a new epidemiological study.

According to Martha Savaria Morris, PhD, epidemiologist at the USDA HNRCA, "we found a strong relationship between high folate status and good cognitive function among people 60 and older who also had adequate levels of vitamin B12."

Using data collected from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, Morris and colleagues found that people with normal vitamin B12 status and high serum folate, which is a measure of folate in the blood, had higher scores on a test of cognitive function.

Blood tests were used to determine folate and vitamin B12 levels, and the cognitive function test assessed aptitudes such as response speed, sustained attention, visual spatial skills, associative learning, and memory. Cognitive impairment was identified when a subject fell into the bottom 20th percentile of the distribution on the test.

"People with normal vitamin B12 status performed better if their serum folate was high," explains Morris, corresponding author of the study. "But for people with low vitamin B12 status, high serum folate was associated with poor performance on the cognitive test." Seniors with low vitamin B12 status and high serum folate were also significantly more likely than seniors in other categories to have anemia, a condition caused by reduced amounts of hemoglobin in oxygen-carrying red blood cells, or by a deficiency in the number or volume of such cells.

"For seniors, low vitamin B12 status and high serum folate was the worst combination," says Morris. "Specifically, anemia and cognitive impairment were observed nearly five times as often for people with this combination than among people with normal vitamin B12 and normal folate." Vitamin B12 deficiency, which affects many seniors due
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