~ High Homocysteine and Alzheimers

High Homocysteine Means Twice The Risk Of Alzheimer's Disease

A National Institute on Aging-funded study of participants enrolled in the longterm Framingham Study, published in the February 12 2002 New England Journal of Medicine, has revealed that individuals who have high levels of homocysteine have almost double the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease compared to those with low levels. Previous studies established a link between high homocysteine and dementia, but it was unknown whether these levels preceded the onset of dementia or resulted from nutritional deficiencies associated with the condition. (Homocysteine is lowered by folic acid, vitamins B6 and B12.) This is the first study to measure the relationship of pre-existing elevated homocysteine levels to the subsequent diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease as well as other types of dementia.

Homocysteine is a toxic amino acid formed in the body as a byproduct methionine metabolism. Elevated levels of homocysteine are known to be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Four hundred twenty-four men and 667 women without dementia with a mean age 76, had baseline plasma homocysteine and vitamin levels measured and were followed by Boston University researchers for eight years. Plasma homocysteine measurements taken eight years before baseline were available for 86% of the subjects. During follow up 83 participants were diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and 28 developed non-Alzheimer's dementia.

After adjustment for age, vitamin levels and other factors, an elevation of plasma homocysteine of 5 micromoles per liter was found to increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease by 40%. Individuals in the group having the highest homocysteine levels had double the risk of Alzheimer's disease and dementia than that of those in the group whose homocysteine levels were lowest.

Research team leader Philip A Wolf, MD of Boston University commented, "The Framingham population gave us the perfect opportunity to look at homocysteine levels in a group of people without memory problems over a period of several years, well before any evidence of dementia. This is the clearest demonstration yet of the relationship between elevated homocysteine levels and dementia."

The NIA is planning a clinical trial to determine whether using high doses of folate and vitamins B6 and B12 to lower homocysteine levels will slow cognitive decline in Alzheimer's disease patients.
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