Grain products fortified with the B vitamin folate could help to reduce memory loss in people aged over-60, according to new research gathered for a recent US-wide health and nutrition survey called NHANES III.

Boston-based researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, at Tufts University, aimed to establish whether there is a relationship between memory loss and blood homocysteine levels, a by-product of amino acid metabolism and something already linked to vitamin B intake (past experiments have shown that homocysteine levels are higher in elderly people with low intakes of B vitamins, especially folate).
High homocysteine levels increase the risk of a stroke, and the researchers wanted to establish if they also have an influence on memory loss among the elderly. Nutritional epidemiologist Martha Morris, who led the study, explained that this could be the case if B vitamins are involved in the synthesis of chemicals crucial to brain function, or if homocysteine is toxic to nerve cells.

The analysis of the data recorded in the NHANES III survey led the scientists to conclude that elevated homocysteine levels are associated with memory loss, however those surveyed who recorded high blood folate levels seemed to be protected from memory loss, even if their homocysteine levels were also high.

In the US, many grain products have been fortified with the vitamin since 1998, but the researchers have now recommended that folate levels in the diet be increased.