People who are deficient in the vitamin folate, also called B-9, may triple their risk of developing dementia in old age, according to a new study.

South Korean researchers measured naturally occurring folate levels in 518 elderly people, none of whom showed any signs of dementia at the start of the study, and then tracked their development over 2.4 years, according to a report from French news agency AFP.

Forty-five of the patients developed dementia, including 34 diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, according to the study, which was published Tuesday by the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.

Even after age, disability, alcohol consumption and weight change were taken into account, "the onset of dementia was significantly associated with an exaggerated decline in folate," the researchers concluded.

Folate and folic acid, a synthetic version of folate, are essential for the creation of new cells in the body, according to the study.

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