Why rates of dementia have declined in the face of a longer-living population

A report in the New York Times calls attention to a significant drop in the rate of mental decline (dementia) in older Americans over the past decade.  Experts estimate there would be one and a half million more demented Americans over age 65 if the rate had not dropped since the year 2000. [New York Times Nov 21, 2016; JAMA Internal Medicine Nov 21, 2016]

According to the NY Times report an estimated 4 million Americans have dementia making it the most expensive disease in the U.S. ($215 billion a year compared to $102 billion for heart disease and $77 billion for cancer).

Modern medicine can’t take credit for this drop in the rate of mental decline.  A medical journal report said: “the full set of social, behavioral, and medical factors contributing to the decline in dementia prevalence is still uncertain.”

This author has been vigilant in watching for the effects of folic acid food fortification that began in 1998 in order to allay the occurrence of birth defects (spina bifida and anencephaly). [Nutrients March 2011]

Folic acid food fortification took 33 years to accomplish since a deficiency of this essential vitamin was first proposed as a cause of birth defects.   Mandatory folic acid food fortification is estimated to have prevented 1300 babies born in the US without birth defects annually. [Centers for Disease Control]

In laboratory mice a folic acid deficiency has been shown to increase the deposition of plaque in the brain. [Nutrients Sept 2016]

A recently published report entitled “Treatable dementia due to vitamin B12 and folate deficiency” says a deficiency of these two vitamins is closely associated with mental decline with advancing age. [Brain Nerve April 2016]

While there are claims folic acid has no significant effect upon mental decline a reanalysis of studies involving this subject shows 11 trials involving 22,000 individuals did not include subjects with mental decline and therefore could not have conclusively shown folic acid to be ineffective.  [Journal Nutrition Health Aging Aug 2015; Nutrient Reviews Oct 2015]

One reason why some studies may not reveal a benefit for folic acid food fortification or dietary supplementation is that brain shrinkage with advancing age is only allayed among those individuals who have a high intake of omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) and have good B vitamin status. [American Journal Clinical Nutrition July 2016]

A recent report says “folic acid deficiency seems to be an important contributor for the onset and progression of neuropsychiatric diseases in the geriatric population.” [Ageing Research Reviews July 2015]

Folic acid food fortification, began in 1998, may have in unintended but beneficial health consequences.  Modern medicine is reluctant to draw such conclusions.

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