High Homocysteine in Women Raises Risk for Alzheimer's

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The risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease is two times greater among middle-aged women who have high levels of homocysteine than those who do not. Although this finding is disturbing, it also may provide clinicians a simple way to identify who is at risk many years before they show signs of Alzheimer’s.

This finding was revealed in a thesis from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and was based on the Prospective Population Study of Women in Gothenburg. The study was started at the end of the 1960s and involved nearly 1,500 women between the ages of 38 and 60. All of the women were examined and asked questions about their health, and blood samples were drawn. Now nearly all of the samples have been evaluated, and the author of the thesis, Dr. Dimitri Zylberstein, compared the gathered information and identified which women developed Alzheimer’s and dementia later in life.

Dr. Zylberstein found that Alzheimer’s disease was more than twice as common among the women who had the highest levels of the amino acid homocysteine when compared with the women who had the lowest levels. Overall, the risk for developing any type of dementia was 70 percent higher among women who had the highest homocysteine levels.

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Follow-up in previous studies linking homocysteine and dementia have never been longer than eight years. The current study, which covered 35 years, is not only the longest one ever conducted, but it is also the first to show an association between homocysteine levels in middle-aged women and the development of dementia several decades later. Given the findings reported in this thesis, it is possible clinicians will be able to identify individuals at risk for dementia decades before signs are evident and thus initiate preventive treatment.

As many as 5.3 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, and another person develops the disease every 70 seconds. Although there is no cure, some treatments may slow progression of the disease. Given the relationship between Alzheimer’s and homocysteine indicated in this study, treatment to lower homocysteine could be initiated.

Research indicates that elevated homocysteine levels are related to deficiencies of folate and vitamin B12, yet high levels might also occur even when these vitamins are not deficient. High levels of homocysteine have been shown to damage blood vessels and to increase the risk of developing blood clots. Thus far, researchers do not know whether the homocysteine itself causes damage to the brain or whether another underlying factor both increases homocysteine and causes dementia.

SOURCES:
Alzheimer’s Association
University of Gothenburg news release Oct 27, 2009

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