A new study just published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation found that the vitamin folate promoted nerve regeneration in laboratory rats. While more research is needed, this study suggests that more research of chemical sequences associated with folate metabolism and DNA methylation may lead to new techniques to promote healing of nervous system injuries. There are 300,000 people in the United States suffering with spinal cord injuries who continue to hope that better methods of treatment for the injury can be found. Nearly 11,000 Americans experience a spinal cord injury each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Bermans J. Iskandar, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison comments “The ability to change gene function through DNA methylation suggests exciting new prospects for understanding the origins of disease and for developing new treatments. Our study showed that folate, a commonly available dietary supplement known to change gene functioning, did so in a way that fosters nervous system repair.” The doctor continues, “Interestingly, the more folate we gave, the more regrowth we saw, eventually achieving almost a tenfold increase in axonal regeneration. Beyond the peak dose of 80 micrograms per kilogram of body weight, the effect decreased but without causing toxicity or nerve damage.”
The researchers was conducted by NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The study showed that the healing effects of the vitamin increased with the dosage, until regrowth of the damaged tissue reached a maximum level. After this threshold was reached, regrowth declined progressively with increasing doses until it reached the level seen in the absence of the vitamin.
This research is in its early phase. Additional studies are needed to determine what role folate might play in the treatment of human beings with spinal cord injury. More information can on folate can be found at folate fact sheet (http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/folate.asp) of the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements.