Folic acid won’t cut heart, stroke risk, study says
Taking a folic acid supplement does not cut the risk of heart disease or stroke in people with a history of cardiovascular ailments, according to a study published on Tuesday.
Folic acid, also called folate, is a B vitamin. The body uses it to make new cells. Some doctors have recommended the vitamin to ward off cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.
Researchers led by Dr. Lydia Bazzano of Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans analyzed the results of 12 trials conducted since 2002 involving nearly 17,000 people.
Comparing people who had taken folic acid supplements for at least six months with those who had not, the study found virtually identical percentages of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, stroke and all causes of death.
“We found that there was no benefit to using folic acid supplements in terms of cardiovascular disease risk or stroke risk,” Bazzano said in an interview.
“We also found that there was no harm in terms of all-cause mortality. Using the supplements didn’t seem to make you die any faster, which was good news,” Bazzano added.
The findings appear in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Some previous research had suggested benefits of folic acid in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Studies have shown folic acid supplements drive down blood levels of homocysteine, a sulfur-containing amino acid that has been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Bazzano said folic acid remains extremely important for other reasons, namely for women planning to become pregnant or already pregnant to prevent major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine.
Doctors recommend women take folic acid daily starting before they become pregnant to help prevent so-called neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly.
“Take it if you’re a woman trying to get pregnant, absolutely. But if you’re an older person who’s already had a heart attack or has any form of vascular disease, this is not what you should be doing,” Bazzano said.
“Really, what you should be doing are things like quitting smoking, increasing your exercise if you can, lowering your blood pressure, lowering your cholesterol. We know that those things have a major benefit and significantly reduce your risk of having a heart attack or a stroke in the future,” she added.
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