The health problems certainly seem to stack-up on us as we age…
And when you’re pushing into your senior years, the list of problems may seem to rise even further.
Studies show that approximately 78 percent of people over 60 years have at least one chronic health condition. And nutrient deficiencies range from 10 percent to as much as 44 percent.
It is unfortunate that as we age, changes in the body may decrease nutrient absorption. And of course, if your diet is made up of processed and packaged foods — which is a habit a lot of empty-nesters fall into — this only increases your risk of nutrient deficiencies further.
In mature adults, more commonly known deficiencies include vitamin D and B12. But there is one nutrient that’s equally important and often forgotten — folate.
Now, you’re probably used to seeing young women urged to increase folate to ensure healthy pregnancies and babies. But it’s important for the proper functioning of the nervous system no matter your age.
Age better with folate
In older folks, a deficiency can result in depression and possibly dementia, but that’s not all… Folate is essential for many metabolic functions, helping to support the functions of amino acids (proteins), as well as aiding in DNA reactions.
Your body needs at least 400 mcg of folate per day to fend off some pretty nasty illnesses and chronic conditions, including…
- Cardiovascular disease. Initial studies connecting folate to heart disease show that getting an adequate intake each day could potentially decrease your risk of coronary artery disease, heart attack and stroke by 25 percent.
- Cancer. Since folate is involved in DNA reactions and DNA stability, researchers suggest that a lack of folate could play a part in cancer development. In observational studies, data has consistently shown that low folate is associated with cancer risk, particularly colon and breast cancers.
- Alzheimer’s and cognitive impairment. Folate is needed for normal brain development and function, not only in your younger years but in later life as well. Though we need further studies, some research has shown that those who supplement folic acid have a smaller loss of grey matter in the brain, which slows down cognitive decline.
- Maintain muscle strength. Maintaining muscle strength as you age helps prevent falls. And preventing falls is important because falls can lead to fractures — in older age, broken bones take much longer to heal. In commonly used muscle strength tests, women with folate deficiency have been shown to have lower than average leg strength and lower than average grip strength.
- Lead a higher quality of life. When researchers measured older people’s ability to self-care, along with their mobility activities, they found that 45 percent of the low folate group struggled, compared to just 9 percent of the group who had adequate folate intake.
Where can you find folate?
Many vegetables and legumes contain folate, which is why it’s recommended you eat a whole foods diet over a processed, packaged foods diet.
Rich sources of folate include (mcg/per 1 cup):
- Edamame — 482
- Radish — 342
- Spinach — 263
- Asparagus — 263
- Mustard greens — 201
- Fava beans — 186
- Peas — 173
- Turnip greens — 170
- Brussels sprouts — 157
- Beets — 141
- Okra — 141
- Collards — 139
If you choose to supplement instead, folic acid can be taken as a standalone supplement or often comes combined with B vitamins. The recommended dose is 400 mcg per day and the maximum dose recommended is 1,000 mcg/day for adults 19 years and over.
And, if you find you have a deficiency, be especially cautious about drinking alcohol — it interferes with absorption and metabolism and accelerates its breakdown. According to a study, even just moderate alcohol consumption of a single eight-ounce glass of wine per day for two weeks significantly decreased folate concentrations in healthy men.
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Folate — Oregonstate.edu. (2014). Linus Pauling Institute. Retrieved 15 July, 2017.
Folate — (2017). Usda.gov. Retrieved 15 July, 2017
E H Reynolds. Folic acid, aging, depression, and dementia. BMJ. 2002; 1512-1515
Wee, AKH. Serum folate predicts muscle strength: a pilot cross-sectional study of the association between serum vitamin levels and muscle strength and gait measures in patients >65 years old with diabetes mellitus in a primary care setting. — Wee Nutrition Journal. 2016;15:89.
Gibson A, Woodside JV, Young IS, Sharpe PC, Mercer C, Patterson CC, et al. (2008). Alcohol increases homocysteine and reduces B vitamin concentration in healthy male volunteers–a randomized, crossover intervention study. QJM 101(11): 881-887.