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Homocysteine: A Possible Risk Factor For Alzheimer's Disease

Scientists at the Universities of Oxford, in the UK, and Bergen, Norway, have found an association between pathologically-confirmed Alzheimer's disease and moderately elevated blood levels of the amino acid, homocysteine. A moderate elevation in blood levels of homocysteine is a known risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

Researchers found that 76 patients in the Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing (OPTIMA) who had pathologically-confirmed Alzheimer's disease had elevated blood levels of homocysteine and lower blood levels of folate and vitamin B12 (the vitamins which control homocysteine levels) than 108 age-matched control subjects.

These latest findings, which have yet to be published, were reported yesterday (Monday 27 April) in Nijmegen, Netherlands, at the second International Conference on Homocysteine Metabolism. However, the authors of the report, `Hyperhomocysteinemia: an independent risk factor for histopathologically-confirmed Alzheimer's disease - Professor David Smith, Dr R Clarke, Dr K A Jobst, Ms L Sutton, Professor P M Ueland, and Professor H Refsum - stressed that these biochemical changes in the blood could be a consequence, rather than a cause, of Alzheimer's disease, and that further work is required to distinguish between these two interpretations.

In particular, clinical trials over a number of years will be needed to determine if lowering homocysteine levels, by means of dietary supplementation with folic acid and vitamin B12, influences the development of Alzheimer's disease. Individuals should not take extra folic acid without consulting their doctor.

Profesor David Smith, Chairman of the Department of Pharmacology at Oxford and head of OPTIMA, said: `These findings are important because they provide a testable hypothesis that it may be possible to prevent or delay the progression of Alzheimer's disease in a proportion of potential sufferers. Howev
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Contact: Gill Sanders or Nicky Old
gill.sanders@admin.ox.ac.uk
44 (0)1865 278181
University of Oxford
28-Apr-1998


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