Sacramento and Davis scientists at the University of California, Davis have been studying folic acid for years to see whether the supplement can reduce the risk of autism in babies, if the mother takes folic acid or gets it from food, according to the study on folic acid intake during early pregnancy. And other scientists in Europe have been studying folic acid to see whether it might help lower the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease in older adults.
Locally, a study by researchers at the UC Davis MIND Institute in Sacramento suggests that women who consume the recommended daily dosage of folic acid, the synthetic form of folate or vitamin B-9, during the first month of pregnancy may have a reduced risk of having a child with autism. Folic acid has been studied by scientists in the US and in Europe for its affects on unborn babies, youth, middle-aged people, and the elderly.
The UC Davis study furthers the researchers' earlier investigations, which found that women who take prenatal vitamins around the time of conception have a reduced risk of having a child with autism. The current study sought to determine whether the folic acid consumed in those supplements was the source of the protective effect. The finding suggests that, in addition to women who already have conceived, those who are attempting to become pregnant should consider consuming folic acid supplements, the authors say, according to the news release, "Folic acid intake during early pregnancy associated with reduced risk of autism in offspring."
The study found that women who each day consumed the recommended amount of folic acid (600 micrograms, or .6 milligrams) during the first month of pregnancy experienced a reduced risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder, specifically when the mother and/or her child had a specific genetic variant (MTHFR 677 C>T) associated with less efficient folate metabolism. The study is published in the July 2012 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. You also may want to check out the commentary, "Is Folic Acid Good for Everyone?"
"This research is congruent with the findings of earlier studies that suggest that improved neurodevelopmental outcomes are associated with folic acid intake in early pregnancy," says lead study author Rebecca J. Schmidt, assistant professor of public health sciences in the UC Davis School of Medicine and a researcher with the UC Davis MIND Institute. "It further supports recommendations that women with any chance of becoming pregnant should consider consuming folic acid at levels of 600 micrograms or greater per day," according to the news release, "Folic acid intake during early pregnancy associated with reduced risk of autism in offspring."
Folic acid deficiency can cause severe health problems in offspring, including spina bifida, heart defects and placental abnormalities
A new study out today, September 26, 2013, from the University of Cambridge reveals that a mutation in a gene necessary for the metabolism of folic acid not only impacts the immediate offspring but can also have detrimental health effects on the next several generations. The new research, which also sheds light on the molecular mechanism of folic acid (also known as folate) during development, was published today in the journal Cell. The paper 'Mutation in Folate Metabolism Causes Epigenetic Instability and Transgenerational Effects On Development' will be published in the September 26, 2013 edition of the journal Cell. To view a video of the researchers explaining their study, please go to the YouTube site to see the video on the effects of folate.
"Although our research focused on genetic mutations which disrupts the break down and metabolism of folic acid, we believe that folic acid deficiency in the diet would have a similar multi-generational impact on health," explains Dr Erica Watson from the Centre for Trophoblast Research at the University of Cambridge, who led the study, according to the September 26, 2013 news release, "Folic acid deficiency can affect the health of great, great grandchildren."
The detrimental effects of folic acid deficiency on development are quite well known. As a result, many countries, to include Canada and the US, have implemented folate fortification programs which require folic acid to be added to cereal products. However, until now, very little was known about how folic acid deficiency caused the diverse range of health problems in offspring.
"Fortification programs have reduced the risk of health effects but not eliminated them completely," says Dr Watson in the news release. "Based on our research, we now believe that it may take more than one generation to eliminate the health problems caused by folate deficiency."
The researchers, from the Universities of Cambridge and Calgary, used mice for the study as they metabolize folic acid very similarly to humans and because folic acid deficiency or mutations in the same genes required to break down folic acid in humans result in similar developmental abnormalities and diseases in mice. This enabled the researchers to explore how the molecular mechanism of folic acid deficiency impacted development, thereby causing health problems.
For the study, the scientists used mice in which a gene called Mtrr was specifically mutated. The gene is key to the normal progression of the folic acid cycle and, when mutated, it results in abnormal folic acid metabolism causing similar effects to dietary folic acid deficiency. The researchers found that when either the maternal grandmother or the maternal grandfather had this Mtrr mutation, their genetically normal grandchildren were at risk of a wide spectrum of developmental abnormalities. These developmental abnormalities were also seen in the fourth and fifth generations of mice.
Through another experiment which involved transferring the embryo from the third generation into a normal healthy female mouse, they discovered that these developmental abnormalities were not passed down genetically. Instead, the serious defects were the result of epigenetic changes which had been inherited.
Epigenetics is a system which turns genes on and off
It occurs when chemicals, such as methyl groups, bind to the DNA at specific locations to control which genes are expressed and when they are expressed. (Interestingly, the folic acid cycle is required to make sure that the cell has enough methyl groups for normal gene expression.) Epigenetic inheritance refers to the passing of these epigenetic marks from one generation to the next – despite the epigenome, for the most part, being 'wiped clean' after each generation.
The researchers hypothesize that, for a yet unknown reason, some of these abnormal epigenetic marks caused by the Mtrr mutation may escape this normal erasure and are inherited by the next generation. If these abnormal epigenetic marks that regulate genes important for development are inherited, then these generations may develop abnormalities as a result of the wrong genes being turned on or off.
"It surprised us to find that the great, great grandchildren of a parent who has had a folic acid deficiency could have health problems as a result - suggesting that the 'sins of your maternal grandparents' can have an effect on your development and your risk for disease," says Dr Watson in the news release.
"More importantly, our research shows that disease in general can be inherited through epigenetic means rather than genetic means, which has huge implications for human health. Environmental factors that influence epigenetic patterns. For example, diet, epigenetic disruptors in the environment such as chemicals, and other factors may also have long term, multigenerational effects." For more information also see the Center for Trophoblast Research, Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience, University of Cambridge.
Folic acid deficiency can affect the health of great, great grandchildren
Deficiencies are associated with spina bifida, heart defects and placental abnormalities. Can Sacramentans slow aging brain shrinkage while at the same time lower unwanted high inflammation-inducing homocysteine levels by taking a B-complex multivitamin? A special combination of folic acid and vitamins B-6 and B-12 appears to slow brain atrophy in elderly patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
This is a factor that could play a role in helping stifle the development of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a September 16, 2010 news release, "B-Vitamins May Help Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk in Long Run," from the Lee Swanson Research Update site that also is published in the journal Public Library of Science One (PLoS ONE). The study looked at homocysteine levels in participants, which in turn have an effect on brain atrophy, which in turn plays a role in Alzheimer’s.
The University of Oxford in the United Kingdom released the new study in 2010. According to that study, researchers explain, "In the elderly, the brain shows significant progressive atrophy. The atrophy occurs even in cognitively healthy subjects but is much accelerated in patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
"An intermediate rate of atrophy is found in people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Since the rate of brain atrophy is more rapid in subjects with MCI who convert to Alzheimer’s disease, it is important to identify factors that determine the rate of atrophy since reducing the rate of atrophy is likely to slow the conversion to Alzheimer’s disease.
"One such factor appears to be raised concentrations of plasma total homocysteine. Moderately elevated concentrations of homocysteine have been associated with an increased risk of dementia, notably Alzheimer’s disease, in many cross-section and prospective studies. Raised homocysteine is also associated with both regional and whole brain atrophy, not only in Alzheimer’s disease, but also in healthy elderly."
So how do you lower your homocysteine levels?
The answer is by taking certain B-complex vitamins such as a balanced amount of vitamin B6, B12, and folate (preferably in the active form). If you're in Sacramento, you may want to look at B-complex vitamins at various health food stores such as Elliot's Natural Foods or Sunrise Natural Foods. B-complex vitamins also are available in many Sacramento supermarkets or at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op or Whole Foods Markets in Sacramento.
Online, you can buy B-complex vitamins specifically to fight homocysteine in the bioactive form. That means the folate is in the active form not the form that's generally in most multi-vitamins as B-complex vitamins with folic acid.
The reason for the bioactive form of folate is that some people have a genetic variation that only allows them to absorb folate if it's in the bioactive form as in the Homocysteine Complex with bioactive B12 and patented Metafolin®, which is a bioactive form of folate. Check out the website for the ingredients in HS Fighters (homocysteine complex) for more information, in case you may need this form of folate or folic acid.
The active ingredients, for example, in HS Fighters Active B Vitamins™ are water soluble B Vitamins. Unlike most vitamin formulas, however, HS Fighters™ provides the active coenzyme forms of Folate and B12 to bypass obstacles that may limit your body's ability to absorb and transform these vitamins into active nutrients. But it's up to you and your health care team to decide whether any particular supplement is right for you and your present condition.
According to the September 16, 2010 Lee Swanson Research Update article examining the study, "Vitamins May Help Reduce Alzheimer's Risk in Long Run," B-Vitamins May Help Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk in Long Run," atrophy, or wasting in the brain, is a common symptom of mild cognitive impairment and can be an early warning sign of dementia. One important factor determining the rate of atrophy appears to be raised concentrations of homocysteine in the blood.
Previously, epidemiological studies have reported that high levels of homocysteine are associated with suspected or confirmed dementia
In fact, The Framingham Study reported that people with homocysteine levels above 14 micromoles per liter of serum had twice the risk of dementia, according to the study. Tissue and plasma concentrations of homocysteine are known to be determined by vitamin B status, as they are cofactors for enzymes involved in homocysteine metabolism. The recent study followed 168 participants over two years. Participants were randomly assigned to two groups of equal size.
The first group was treated with a European drug called TrioBe Plus®, a combination of folic acid and vitamins B-6 and B-12. The dosages in the study mentioned, according to the Lee Swanson update article, [folic acid (0.8 mg/d), vitamin B-12 (0.5 mg/d) and vitamin B-6 (20 mg/d)].
The second group received a placebo. Researchers found that those taking the vitamin combo had on average 29.6% less brain shrinkage. The B-vitamin treatment also reduced homocysteine by 22.5%.
Notice how quick scientists were to treat the first group with a European drug? Or did they simply call the vitamin combination a drug? Why didn't researchers call this nutraceutical a B-vitamin complex as it might be called in the USA? After all the so-called 'drug' contained a combination of folic acid and vitamins B-6 and B-12. You can get that over the counter at most any health food store in Sacramento, for example.
What benefits to health researchers saw was not only a reduction in homocysteine that you want to possibly lessen the chance of inflammation leading to coronary issues. But also 29.6% less brain shrinkage. You don't want to end up with a shrunken brain as you age. The homocysteine in the study on average was reduced by 22.5%.
Is that a significant amount?
How much do you want your homocysteine reduced to reach healthy levels? Those are questions you need to ask your doctor because each person's system is somewhat different when it comes to the percentage of homocysteine they need to reduce for maximum health benefits. The same can be applied to percentage of brain shrinkage. Then again, it could be expensive somewhat to have your brain measured to see how much shrinkage is happening during a specific time frame.
The authors of the study conclude that the accelerated rate of brain atrophy in elderly people with mild cognitive impairment can be slowed by treatment with homocysteine-lowering B vitamins. Sixteen percent of those over 70 years old have mild cognitive impairment and half of these develop Alzheimer’s disease.
Since accelerated brain atrophy is a characteristic of subjects with mild cognitive impairment who convert to Alzheimer’s disease, trials are needed to see if the same treatment will delay the development of Alzheimer’s disease, the study explains. For further information, see the study in the Public Library of Science One (PLoS ONE), published online or check out the article, "Vitamins May Help Reduce Alzheimer's Risk in Long Run."