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No evidence that folic acid with or without vitamin B12 improves cognitive function of unselected elderly people with or without dementia. Long-term supplementation may benefit cognitive function of healthy older people with high homocysteine levels

Malouf R, Grimley Evans J
Published Online: 
15 April 2009

In the economically developed world, folate deficiency is one of the commonest vitamin deficiencies. Several reports suggest a higher prevalence of various psychiatric disorders in elderly people with folate deficiency. There is interest in whether dietary supplements of folic acid (an artificial chemical analogue of naturally occurring folates) can improve cognitive function of people at risk of cognitive decline associated with ageing or dementia, whether by affecting homocysteine metabolism or through other mechanisms. Eight trials met the criteria for inclusion. It was not possible to pool the data because the trials studied different populations, tested folic acid in different doses, and used different outcome measures. There were two trials of folic acid in conjunction with B12. The analysis showed significant benefit of folic acid over placebo in some measures of cognition in a long-term trial recruiting elderly people with high homocysteine levels from a general population. In one pilot trial, 1 mg/day of folic acid was associated with significant improvement in behavioural response to cholinesterase inhibitors in people with Alzheimer's disease.