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A new study, published in the Lancet Jan 20th 2007, has shown daily folic acid significantly improves cognitive performance in older adults — specifically as it relates to memory and information processing.

A randomized, placebo-controlled trial, which included 818 subjects aged 50 to 70 years who were folate deficient, showed that those who took 800 µg daily of oral folic acid for 3 years had significantly better memory and information processing speed than subjects in the placebo group.

Furthermore, serum folate concentrations increased by 576% and plasma total homocysteine concentrations decreased by 26% in participants taking folic acid compared with those taking placebo.

The study was really intended to study the effects of folic acid and arteries, a controversial subject, linked to whether or not homocysteine is a valid measure of risk for heart attack and stroke. These findings fo cognitive function were quite incidental - but very welcome.

The trial took place between November 1999 and December 2004 in the Netherlands. A total of 818 patients were randomly assigned to receive 800 µg of daily oral folic acid or placebo for 3 years.

Baseline assessment of cognitive function included 5 separate tests, which measured 5 cognitive domains — memory, sensorimotor speed, complex speed, information processing speed, and word fluency. In addition, patients also underwent the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) to screen for possible dementia.

The authors report participants in both groups were well matched with similar baseline scores.

At the end of the study, the effect of folic acid on cognitive performance was measured as the difference in cognitive performance between the folic acid and placebo groups.

Among individuals in the placebo group sensorimotor speed, information-processing speed, and complex speed declined significantly. In contrast, those in the folic acid group experienced a much slower rate of decline.

Furthermore, the 3-year change in cognitive function was significantly better in the folic acid group in terms of information-processing speed. However, folic acid had no effect on complex speed or word fluency.

"The effect of folic acid might be restricted to basic aspects of speed and information processing, rather than high order information processing. Word fluency was not affected by folic acid supplementation, perhaps not surprisingly because encyclopedic memory is a component of crystallized intelligence that stays relatively intact as one grows older," the authors write.

Lancet. 2007; 369:208-216.

Another study which followed 965 persons aged 65 or older suggested that folate, B6 and B12 are all important: Arch Neurol 2007;64:86-92

Scott-Mumby note: most folic acid supplements you are offered for sale are poor grade. Merck (the drug company) owns the patent on true natural folic acid (metafolin™, as they call it). Make sure you get the right stuff.

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