Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Teens Think Better On Folate

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HIGHER folate intake has been linked, for the first time, to better academic performance in adolescents, independent of socioeconomic status and homocysteine levels.

Pregnant women aren’t the only people who need plenty of folate.

Swedish teenagers who are deficient in folate have poorer grades than teens who have a high folate intake.

Teens often have high levels of the blood protein homocysteine, an amino acid linked to heart disease, and low levels of folic acid. In previous studies, low folic acid levels status and an elevated homocysteine level correlates with cognitive decline, but academic achievement by adolescents has not been studied in this respect.

Among 386 Swedish 15-year-olds, the lower the concentration of this B vitamin in the blood, the more poorly teens tended to perform in school.

The researchers at Swedish universities, led by Dr. Torbjorn K. Nilsson, correlated the students' grades in 10 subjects with a range of nutritional and lifestyle factors and taking into consideration any possible effects of socioeconomic status and genetics.

Low income was related to lower academic achievement, the data showed.

But grades for teens scoring in the lowest third for folate levels scored worse than kids consuming more folate, and this association proved independent of family income.

Swedish teenagers who are deficient in folate have poorer grades than teens who have a high folate intake.

Researchers in Sweden took blood samples from 386 adolescents aged 15 years and gave them a questionnaire to enable assessment of health-related lifestyle activities and their parents’ education levels.

The teenagers’ folate intake was estimated from dietary assessment, and their final semester academic grades from the final year of compulsory schooling were measured.

“We found evidence that high folate intake is positively associated with academic achievement as assessed by school grades in Swedish adolescents,” the authors said.

The association was more pronounced in low-income families.

“These results provide new information that points to the importance of keeping a closer watch on folate status in childhood and adolescence,” the authors said.

Folate intake in adolescents was a public health nutrition concern, they said.

Sweden has no folate fortification of food products.


Nilsson TK, Yngve A, Böttiger AK, Hurtig-Wennlöf A, Sjöström M. High Folate Intake Is Related to Better Academic Achievement in Swedish Adolescents. Pediatrics. 2011 Jul 11. [Epub ahead of print]

Homocysteine is an amino acid formed from the metabolism of the essential amino acid, methionine. High dietary consumption of methionine, which can be found in meats and dairy products, can result in the overproduction of homocysteine. Failure to metabolize homocysteine with folic acid, vitamin B-6 and vitamin B-12 leads to unhealthy elevated blood plasma levels.

High blood plasma levels of homocysteine have been linked to many major disease conditions. Cardiovascular disease, hearing loss, Alzheimer’s disease, and certain cancers and have all been shown to be powerfully affected, if not caused by high homocysteine levels.

Folate Fortification Of Food Products

In the local scene, proposals were made in July 2007 for mandatory folic acid fortification of wheat flour, at the rate of 150 μg /100g flour for the prevention of neural tube defects (NTDs), one of the most common birth defects.

It appears that further discussion is needed between relevant government ministries on the policy, and how fortification will be funded, before the proposal can be finalized and submitted to Cabinet.

Even with breads, cereals and other grain products enriched with folic acid, there is no guarantee that we can attain our daily requirement of folic acid. The 2003 Malaysian Adult Nutrition Survey estimated that only 36.2% of adults are wheat-based food; it is not known if this is also a reflection of the wheat-based food intake of adolescents.

Folic acid is found in leafy green vegetables, fruits, dried beans, peas and nuts. Include a balance of these natural foods in your daily diet. Folic acid tablets or multivitamin tablets may be used as supplements.


Developing the Proposal for Mandatory Fortification of Iron & Folic Acid in Wheat Flour: The Malaysian Experience - February 2009 by Zalma Abdul Razak, Nutrition Division, Public Health Department, Ministry of Health Malaysia. CLICK HERE for Zalma's slide presentation.

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