| Report Supports Folic Acid for Heart Health
NEW YORK (Reuters
Health) - High blood levels of the amino
acid homocysteine may raise the risk of heart disease, stroke
and blood clots in the legs, a new study confirms. The good news,
researchers say, is that supplements containing the B vitamin
folic acid might help reduce this risk.
Homocysteine is a normal byproduct
of metabolism, but high levels of the amino acid in the blood
have been linked to heart disease, stroke and blood clots. Folic
acid is known to aid in breaking down homocysteine, and researchers
are studying whether the vitamin can help ward off cardiovascular
disease by lowering homocysteine in the blood.
But while this question is not
yet answered, existing research gives "strong evidence" that high
homocysteine levels do promote cardiovascular disease, according
to the new report, published in the November 23rd issue of the
British Medical Journal.
The researchers, led by Dr. David
S. Wald of Southampton General Hospital in the UK, base that conclusion
on their review of 92 studies on homocysteine and cardiovascular
Across the studies, they report,
each unit increase in blood homocysteine was associated with a
32% to 42% increase in the risk of ischemic heart disease, in
which blood flow to the heart is reduced. Similar patterns were
found for stroke and deep vein thrombosis (DVT)--blood clots in
deep veins, usually in the legs, that can be life-threatening
if they dislodge and travel to the lungs.
On the bright side, though, Wald's
team estimates that lowering homocysteine levels by an amount
achievable with daily folic acid supplements could cut the risks
of heart disease, stroke and DVT.
To "maximally" cut homocysteine
levels--and, potentially, disease risk--a person would have to
take about 0.8 milligrams (mg) of folic acid a day, according
to Wald's team. US dietary recommendations call for adults to
get 0.4 mg of folic acid daily.
In the US, where many grains are
fortified with folic acid, Wald told Reuters Health, a healthy
diet plus a daily multivitamin containing folic acid may help
maintain normal homocysteine levels.
"Adults," Wald said, "particularly
those aged 55 and older, stand to benefit from taking a folic
acid supplement everyday."
Currently, the American Heart Association
does not recommend taking folic acid specifically for the prevention
of cardiovascular disease, due to the lack of studies showing
the vitamin prevents these conditions. However, it does advise
that people at risk of cardiovascular disease be especially sure
to get enough folic acid, as well as vitamins B-6 and B-12, in
Besides fortified grains, good
dietary sources of folate--the form of the vitamin that naturally
occurs in food--include beans, leafy green vegetables and orange
SOURCE: British Medical Journal
Reference Source 89