January 07, 2013

Homocysteine and The Shrinking Brain

The Shrinking Brain:

Did you know that your brain shrinks in size as you get older? This can begin around the age of 50.

Your brain shrinks at an average rate of 0.5 % per year.  However, most of us have a good reserve capacity to cope with this.  But when a person develops memory problems such as Mild Cognitive Impairment the rate can increase to 1%.  The brain shrinks even more rapidly (2-3 % per year) when a person has a clinical diagnosis of dementia.

Scientists call such shrinkage 'Brain Atrophy.'


Homocysteine and Brain Atrophy:

A striking finding from studies of Homocysteine in relation to dementia is its close association with brain atrophy.  Put simply, the higher the homocysteine level in your blood, the greater the amount of brain atrophy.

One of the areas of the shrinking brain that correlates closely with homocysteine is the medial temporal lobe; an area involved in memory retention.

The relationship between homocysteine and brain atrophy is also seen in healthy elderly people.  For example, the Rotterdam Scan Study investigated over 500 individuals using MRI measures of brain atrophy.  Homocysteine levels correlated with cortical and hippocampal atrophy (Brain 2003;126:170-5). Others have recently confirmed such findings (Neuroreport. 2011;22 :391-5).


Can Lowering Homocysteine Slow Brain Shrinkage?

The discovery of a close link between Homocysteine and Brain Shrinkage meant that scientists could now use MRI scans as very strong and reliable "endpoints" to measure the effects of Homocysteine Lowering on the brain.

In our next Blog Update we will look at results from one such study - The Oxford based VITACOG trial.




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