MONDAY, July 11 (HealthDay News) -- Teens who have high levels
of folic acid appear to do better in school than those with lower
levels, Swedish researchers report.
"Folate intake had a positive association with academic achievement" in the students studied, the authors wrote in the report published in the July 11 online edition and the August print issue of Pediatrics.
Not only should health providers monitor folic acid levels in
teens, but the findings should influence school meals, school
teaching and information given to parents, according to the
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, folic acid levels have been linked to
mental ability; however, until now this had not been linked with
improved school performance, the study authors said.
"We know that folate plays a really critical role in brain development and brain function," said Dr. Daniel Armstrong, associate chair of pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
"We know that, in young children, folate deficiencies are associated with poorer neurocognitive function and neurocognitive development," he noted. In fact, folate deficiencies may be involved in the development of autism, he added.
Armstrong thinks that a diet rich in folate might be important
for brain functioning throughout life. "It's one of those things
that's no harm, no foul. It's not going to do us any harm and it
might do us some good," he said.
To find out whether folate might do some good, a team led by Dr.
Torbjorn K. Nilsson, from the department of laboratory medicine at
Orebro University Hospital in Sweden, collected data on folic acid
levels in 386 teens aged 15 years. The researchers also looked at
any possible effects of socioeconomic status and genetics.
The investigators found that teens who had the highest levels of
folic acid also got the best grades. None of the other factors they
examined accounted for their finding, Nilsson's team noted.
"These results provide new information that points to the importance of keeping a closer watch on folate status in childhood and adolescence. They may also have direct implications for school meal provisions, school teaching programs and information to parents," the authors concluded.
However, there is no scientific evidence that taking folate
supplements will be beneficial, Armstrong noted. "It's too early to
say that everyone should start taking folate," he stressed.
Folic acid is one of the B vitamins and is a key component in
making DNA and RNA. Insufficient folic acid is a cause of certain
birth defects of the spine and brain, including spina bifida.
Among the elderly, folic acid consumption appears to affect
mental ability, and low levels of this vitamin have been associated
with dementia and Alzheimer's disease, according to several
Folic acid is found in leafy green vegetables, fruits, dried
beans, peas and nuts. In addition, people can obtain folic acid
from breads, cereals and other grain products enriched with folic
acid, as well as folic acid supplements.
For more information on folic acid, visit the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.