[Age-associated changes in the metabolism of vitamin B(12) and folic acid: prevalence, aetiopathogenesis and pathophysiological consequences].Z Gerontol Geriatr 2004; 37(2):109-35ZG
The increasing number of older people is characteristic for most industrialised nations and implicates the known psychosocial and economic consequences. Therefore, an optimal nutrient supply that promotes continuing mental and physical well-being is particularly important. In this respect, vitamin B(12) and folic acid play a major role, since deficiency of both vitamins is associated with the pathogenesis of different diseases such as declining neurocognitive function and atherosclerotic lesions. Vitamin B(12) and folic acid act as coenzymes and show a close molecular interaction on the basis of the homocysteine metabolism. In addition to the serum concentrations of the vitamins, the metabolites homocysteine and methylmalonic acid are sensitive markers of cobalamin and folate status. Depending on the used marker, 3-60% of the elderly are classified as vitamin B(12) deficient and about 29% as folate deficient. Predominantly, this high prevalence of poor cobalamin status is caused by the increasing prevalence of atrophic gastritis type B, which occurs with a frequency of approximately 20-50% in elderly subjects. Atrophic gastritis results in declining gastric acid and pepsinogen secretion, and hence decreasing intestinal digestion and absorption of both B vitamins. This is the reason why an insufficient vitamin B(12) status in the elderly is rarely due to low dietary intake. In contrast, folic acid intake among elderly subjects is generally well below the recommended dietary reference values. Even moderately increased homocysteine levels or poor folate and vitamin B(12) status are associated with vascular disease and neurocognitive disorders. Results of a meta-analysis of prospective studies revealed that a 25% lower homocysteine level (about 3 micromol/L) was associated with an 11% lower ischemic heart disease risk and 19% lower stroke risk. It is still discussed, whether hyperhomocysteinemia is causally related to vascular disease or whether it is a consequence of atherosclerosis. Estimated risk reduction is based on cohort studies, not on clinical trials. Homocysteine initiates different proatherogenetic mechanisms such as the formation of reactive oxygen species and an enhanced fibrin synthesis. Supplementation of folic acid (0.5-5 mg/d) reduces the homocysteine concentration by 25%. Additional vitamin B(12) (0.5 mg/d) induces further reduction by 7%. In secondary prevention, supplementation already led to clinical improvements (reduction of restenosis rate and plaques). Depression, dementia, and mental impairment are often associated with folate and vitamin B(12) deficiency. The biochemical reason of this finding may be the importance of folic acid and vitamin B(12) for the transmethylation of neuroactive substances (myelin, neurotransmitters) which is impaired in vitamin deficiency ("hypomethylation hypothesis"). In recent years, there is increasing evidence for a role of folic acid in cancer prevention. As a molecular mechanism of a preventive effect of folic acid the hypomethylation of certain DNA sections in folate deficiency has been suggested. Since folate and vitamin B(12) intake and status are mostly insufficient in elderly subjects, a supplementation can generally be recommended.