Hyperhomocysteinemia and vitamin B-12 deficiency in elderly using Title IIIc nutrition services.

Background: The effect of the folate food fortification program on the prevalence of hyperhomocysteinemia in the older population with coexisting vitamin B-12 deficiency is not known.

Objective: The objective was to determine the prevalence of hyperhomocysteinemia and vitamin B-12 deficiency in elderly who were using Title IIIc nutrition services, after folate food fortification in the United States.

Design: Demographic, nutritional, cognitive, routine diagnostic, and serum methylmalonic acid (MMA) and total homocysteine (tHcy) tests were performed in a convenience sample of 103 elderly enrolled in nutrition service programs in rural northeast Georgia. A subgroup (n = 27) was treated with vitamin B-12, 2.5 mg, and a multivitamin with 400 micro g folic acid, 2 mg vitamin B-6, and 27 mg ferrous fumarate.

Results: The total cohort included 103 participants (+/- SD age: 76.4 +/- 8.1; 80% female; 68% white, 32% African American). Vitamin B-12 deficiency (serum vitamin B-12 < 258 pmol/L and MMA > 271 nmol/L) was present in 23%. Mean serum folate was high, 39.3 nmol/L, and no subject had serum folate < 6.8 nmol/L. Mean tHcy was 17.6 +/- 7.2 micro mol/L in vitamin B-12-deficient subjects and 10.8 +/- 3.6 micro mol/L in those who were nondeficient. Determinants of high tHcy were vitamin B-12 deficiency, high serum creatinine, and low red blood cell folate. Those with vitamin B-12 deficiency were more likely to have poor cognition (58% compared with 20%, P < 0.001) and anemia (38% compared with 18%, P = 0.042). High-dose oral B-12 therapy lowered mean MMA and tHcy by 49% and 32%, respectively.

Conclusion: Vitamin B-12 deficiency was prevalent and was associated with poor cognition, anemia, and hyperhomocysteinemia.