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D.iet & H.ealth : H.eart & B.lood Last Updated: Nov 15th, 2006 - 19:11:34

Vitamin B may be of little or no use in preventing heart disease
Nov 15, 2006, 19:09

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By Diana Simms

Supplements containing vitamin B may be of little or no use to women when it comes to preventing heart disease, according to new results from the Women's Antioxidant and Folic Acid Cardiovascular Study (WAFACS).

Although the results of the study cannot be applied to the general population, the study focused on women who were either diagnosed with cardiovascular disease (CVD) or were at an increased risk of the same. Women in the latter group had a history of high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes and smoking.

Conventional belief is that increased levels of the amino acid, homocysteine are directly or indirectly responsible for increased risk of heart disease. Although earlier studies have found evidence linking increased levels of homocysteine to heart disease, there is no evidence that reducing homocysteine levels by vitamin D supplementation reduces the risk of heart disease or prevents it.

Earlier this year two studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that although Vitamin D reduced the levels of homocysteine there was little or no beneficial effect as far as preventing heart disease was concerned.

The two studies were based on Heart Outcomes Prevention Evaluation (HOPE) 2 and the Norwegian Vitamin (NORVIT) trials, which found that vitamin B, did not reduce the risk of heart disease, heart attack or stroke for high-risk patients.

The present study involved 5,442 women. All women were aged over 40 and were health professionals, but had an increased risk for CVD or were suffering from it.

The researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston randomly assigned women to receive either a combination of folic acid (2.5 milligrams daily), vitamin B6 (50 mg daily) and vitamin B12 (1 mg daily) or a placebo.

The risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke were compared in both groups. Christine Albert, lead author of the study, from Brigham and Women's Hospital said that the women were followed for 7.3 years, but no significant differences were noted between the B-vitamin supplemented groups and placebo in reducing the risk of heart attacks, strokes, coronary revascularization procedures and cardiovascular-related deaths.

"Our study does not suggest that taking folic acid, B6 or B12 primarily to prevent cardiovascular disease (CVD) would be worthwhile. Women who are taking them solely for that purpose may want to discontinue," said Albert.

The results of the study were presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2006.

While the study did not find any benefits from vitamin B supplementation in preventing heart disease, it did find that the vitamins did not cause any side effects, which was welcomed by a US trade organization known as the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN).

"It would be a public health disservice if the results of this study were misinterpreted in a manner which discouraged women of childbearing age from heeding the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control to supplement their diet with folic acid," the CRN said in a statement.

Dr. Annette Dickinson, consultant and past president, CRN agreed with this assessment and said that it was unrealistic to expect that B vitamins would be beneficial in established heart disease.

"The real question should be whether a healthy lifestyle - eating fruits and vegetables, getting exercise, regular physician visits, and consistent use of vitamin supplements - could have prevented these women from getting heart disease in the first place," she added.


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