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LE Magazine March 2005

Folic acid

A role for supplements in optimizing health: the metabolic tune-up.

An optimum intake of micronutrients and metabolites, which varies with age and genetic constitution, would tune up metabolism and give a marked increase in health, particularly for the poor, young, obese, and elderly, at little cost. (1) DNA damage. Deficiency of vitamins B-12, folic acid, B-6, C or E, or iron or zinc appears to mimic radiation in damaging DNA by causing single- and double-strand breaks, oxidative lesions or both. Half of the population may be deficient in at least one of these micronutrients. (2) The Km concept. Approximately 50 different human genetic diseases that are due to a poorer binding affinity (Km) of the mutant enzyme for its coenzyme can be remedied by feeding high-dose B vitamins, which raise levels of the corresponding coenzyme. Many polymorphisms also result in a lowered affinity of enzyme for coenzyme. (3) Mitochondrial oxidative decay. This decay, which is a major contributor to aging, can be ameliorated by feeding old rats the normal mitochondrial metabolites acetyl carnitine and lipoic acid at high levels. Many common micronutrient deficiencies, such as iron or biotin, cause mitochondrial decay with oxidant leakage leading to accelerated aging and neural decay.

Arch Biochem Biophys. 2004 Mar 1;423(1):227-34

Homocysteine and reactive oxygen species in metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and atheroscleropathy: The pleiotropic effects of folate supplementation.

Homocysteine has emerged as a novel independent marker of risk for the development of cardiovascular disease over the past three decades. Additionally, there is a graded mortality risk associated with an elevated fasting plasma total homocysteine (tHcy). Metabolic syndrome (MS) and type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) are now considered to be a strong coronary heart disease (CHD) risk enhancer and a CHD risk equivalent respectively. Hyperhomocysteinemia (HHcy) in patients with MS and T2DM would be expected to share a similar prevalence to the general population of five to seven percent and of even greater importance is: Declining glomerular filtration and overt diabetic nephropathy is a major determinant of tHcy elevation in MS and T2DM.There are multiple metabolic toxicities resulting in an excess of reactive oxygen species associated with MS, T2DM, and the accelerated atherosclerosis (atheroscleropathy). HHcy is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and its individual role and how it interacts with the other multiple toxicities are presented.The water-soluble B vitamins (especially folate and cobalamin-vitamin B12) have been shown to lower HHcy. The absence of the cystathionine beta synthase enzyme in human vascular cells contributes to the importance of a dual role of folic acid in lowering tHcy through remethylation, as well as, its action of being an electron and hydrogen donor to the essential cofactor tetrahydrobiopterin. This folate shuttle facilitates the important recoupling of the uncoupled endothelial nitric oxide synthase enzyme reaction and may restore the synthesis of the omnipotent endothelial nitric oxide to the vasculature.

Nutr J. 2004 May 10;3(1):4

Inflammation and endothelial dysfunction: intimate companions in the pathogenesis of vascular disease?

There is increasing evidence to implicate inflammation as an important precursor of endothelial dysfunction. This mechanistic link is apparent across the entire spectrum of inflammatory status, i.e. endothelial function is apparent following acute infection, and in subjects with chronic high-grade inflammation and, perhaps most importantly, persistent low-grade inflammation. The recognition of this relationship has present therapeutic ramifications, but also requires that future longitudinal studies determining the predictive ability of endothelial function measures for vascular events should incorporate markers of inflammation as potential confounders. In this issue of Clinical Science, Fichtlscherer and co-workers describe a link between endothelial function and sPLA(2) (secretory non-pancreatic type II phospholipase A(2)) serum activity.

Clin Sci (Lond). 2004 May;106(5):443-5

Age-associated changes in the metabolism of vitamin B(12) and folic acid: prevalence, aetiopathogenesis and pathophysiological consequences.

The increasing number of older people is characteristic for most industrialised nations and implicates the known psychosocial and economic consequences. Therefore, an optimal nutrient supply that promotes continuing mental and physical well-being is particularly important. In this respect, vitamin B(12) and folic acid play a major role, since deficiency of both vitamins is associated with the pathogenesis of different diseases such as declining neurocognitive function and atherosclerotic lesions. Vitamin B(12) and folic acid act as coenzymes and show a close molecular interaction on the basis of the homocysteine metabolism. In addition to the serum concentrations of the vitamins, the metabolites homocysteine and methylmalonic acid are sensitive markers of cobalamin and folate status. Depending on the used marker, 3-60% of the elderly are classified as vitamin B(12) deficient and about 29% as folate deficient. Predominantly, this high prevalence of poor cobalamin status is caused by the increasing prevalence of atrophic gastritis type B, which occurs with a frequency of approximately 20-50% in elderly subjects. Atrophic gastritis results in declining gastric acid and pepsinogen secretion, and hence decreasing intestinal digestion and absorption of both B vitamins. This is the reason why an insufficient vitamin B(12) status in the elderly is rarely due to low dietary intake. In contrast, folic acid intake among elderly subjects is generally well below the recommended dietary reference values. Even moderately increased homocysteine levels or poor folate and vitamin B(12) status are associated with vascular disease and neurocognitive disorders. Results of a meta-analysis of prospective studies revealed that a 25% lower homocysteine level (about 3 micromol/L) was associated with an 11% lower ischemic heart disease risk and 19% lower stroke risk. It is still discussed, whether hyperhomocysteinemia is causally related to vascular disease or whether it is a consequence of atherosclerosis. Estimated risk reduction is based on cohort studies, not on clinical trials. Homocysteine initiates different proatherogenetic mechanisms such as the formation of reactive oxygen species and an enhanced fibrin synthesis. Supplementation of folic acid (0.5-5 mg/d) reduces the homocysteine concentration by 25%. Additional vitamin B(12) (0.5 mg/d) induces further reduction by 7%. In secondary prevention, supplementation already led to clinical improvements (reduction of restenosis rate and plaques). Depression, dementia, and mental impairment are often associated with folate and vitamin B(12) deficiency. The biochemical reason of this finding may be the importance of folic acid and vitamin B(12) for the transmethylation of neuroactive substances (myelin, neurotransmitters) which is impaired in vitamin deficiency (“hypomethylation hypothesis”). In recent years, there is increasing evidence for a role of folic acid in cancer prevention. As a molecular mechanism of a preventive effect of folic acid the hypomethylation of certain DNA sections in folate deficiency has been suggested. Since folate and vitamin B(12) intake and status are mostly insufficient in elderly subjects, a supplementation can generally be recommended.

Z Gerontol Geriatr. 2004 Apr;37(2):109-35

Endothelial function in post-menopausal women: effect of folic acid supplementation.

BACKGROUND: Higher than normal homocysteine levels are associated with an increased incidence of adverse cardiovascular events in post-menopausal women, perhaps via hyperhomocysteinaemia-induced vascular endothelial damage. Because folic acid supplementation reduces homocysteine levels, we attempted to evaluate whether folic acid supplementation may affect endothelial function in post-menopausal women. METHODS: Brachial artery flow-mediated dilatation (endothelium-dependent) and nitroglycerin-induced dilatation (endothelium-independent) before and after a methionine load were analysed in 15 healthy post-menopausal women. Plasma levels of folate, homocysteine, glucose, insulin and lipids were measured, as was blood pressure. All studies were repeated after 1 month supplementation with 7.5 mg/day of folic acid. RESULTS: After folate, endothelial function rose 37% over pre-folic acid supplementation value (P < 0.001), and flow-mediated dilation before folic acid was reduced by 62% subsequent to methionine loading (P < 0.0001); this reduction was still present after folic acid, but was only 19% (P < 0.001). Nitroglycerin-induced dilatation did not change in response to methionine loading before or after folic acid supplementation. Among the other cardiovascular risk factors studied, only high-density lipoprotein (HDL)-cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL)-cholesterol showed significant changes after folic acid supplementation, with a 6% increase (P < 0.03) and a 9% decrease (P < 0.03) respectively. CONCLUSIONS: Although preliminary, these results indicate that folic acid supplementation may improve endothelial function and lipid profile in post-menopausal women, thus contributing to reduce their cardiovascular risk.

Hum Reprod. 2004 Apr;19(4):1031-5. Epub 2004 Mar 11

Homocysteine and the brain in midadult life: evidence for an increased risk of leukoaraiosis in men.

BACKGROUND: High serum homocysteine (HCY) levels have been associated with thromboembolic cerebrovascular disease, but their relationship to microvascular disease is uncertain. Homocysteine also has a direct neurotoxic effect and has been linked to brain atrophy and an increased risk of Alzheimer disease. OBJECTIVE: To examine the relationship of HCY levels to brain and cognitive measures in a healthy community sample. DESIGN: Cross-sectional study. SETTING: Individuals residing in Canberra and Queanbeyan, Australia, who were participating in the longitudinal PATH Through Life Project. PARTICIPANTS: Individuals aged 60 to 64 years selected randomly from the community, 196 men and 189 women. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Regression coefficients with HCY level as the putative determinant and various magnetic resonance imaging measures (brain atrophy index, ventricle-brain ratios, volume of periventricular and deep white matter hyperintensities) and cognitive measures (information processing speed, verbal memory, fine motor speed) as dependent measures. RESULTS: Homocysteine levels did not have a significant relationship with brain atrophy index or ventricle-brain ratios. High HCY levels were related to increased deep white matter hyperintensities but not periventricular white matter hyperintensities, after correcting for levels of folate, vitamin B(12), creatinine, and thyrotropin; hypertension; smoking; and diabetes, the relationship being significant only in men. Homocysteine levels were related to impairment in verbal memory and fine motor speed but not after the previously mentioned correction. CONCLUSIONS: Total HCY level is independently related to leukoaraiosis in middle-aged men, and this may be functionally relevant in the form of mild cognitive impairment. The remediation of hyperhomocysteinemia should begin early in life if its deleterious effects on the brain are to be prevented.

Arch Neurol. 2004 Sep;6