Folic acid supplements may cut stroke risk a bit, but not heart disease

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By david Liu, PHD

Tuesday Aug 14, 2012 (foodconsumer.org) -- Eating folic acid rich foods or taking folic acid supplements may reduce the risk for stroke, but not coronary heart disease, according to a study published on Aug 9, 2012 in the European Journal of Internal Medicine.

The study led by H.T. Yang of Chang Gung University College of Medicine in Taiwan and colleagues showed folic acid supplementation was associated with a 7 percent reduced risk for stroke.

Observational studies have found an association between lower serum homocysteine levels and lower incidence of cardiovascular disease.  Homocysteine levels can be effectively lowered by high intake of dietary folic acid, but cardiovascular risk was not reduced by lowering homocysteine, according to some studies.

The current study was a meta-analysis of data from 26 relevant randomized controlled trials of 58,804 participants, intended to assess the efficacy of folic acid supplementation in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease and stroke.

Folic acid supplementation was not correlated with the risk of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease and all-cause mortality, but was linked to a 7 percent decreased risk of stroke, according to the study report.

The researchers concluded "This meta-analysis suggests that there might be a potentially modest benefit of folic acid supplementation in stroke prevention."

Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease killed 616,000 Americans in 2008. Coronary heart disease is the major form of heart disease, which killed 405,309 Americans in 2008.  Coronary heart disease cost the U.S. $108.9 billion in 2010.

The main risk factors for coronary heart disease, the CDC says, are inactivity (53%), obesity (34%), high blood pressure (32%), tobacco smoking (21%). high cholesterol (15%) and diabetes (11%). Diet, which is not included in the risk list, is a major factor for increased risk of heart disease in the West, many nutritionists believe.  Some processed foods are linked to elevated risk for the disease while other foods are associated with a reduced risk.

The condition of coronary heart disease can be reversed or stabilized by following a plant-based diet.  Readers who are interested in alternative preventative measures should check out the website run by Dr. Dean Ornish, a University of California in San Francisco professor who is among the few doctors who ever use a plant-based diet to treat heart disease and diabetes. The efficacy can be as high as 99%.

Folic acid is commonly added to grain products.  Food consumers need to know that intake of too much folic acid or commonly seen as folate can do more harm than good in both men and women.   Folic acid is found high in vegetables, which are safe to eat.

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