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Heart Disease Health Center

Proper Nutrition and Heart Health

WebMD's top 5 vitamins and minerals for heart health. Part 2 of a three-part series.
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Not Fooling With Folic Acid continued...

Homocysteine may damage the blood vessel walls and promote blood clots, and although studies have consistently shown that high levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, researchers are still not sure whether lowering the level of homocysteine reduces heart disease risk.

But homocysteine levels are strongly influenced by diet, and several studies have shown that higher blood levels of B vitamins -- specifically folic acid -- are related, at least partly, to lower concentrations of homocysteine. Today, cereals, breads, and other grains like rice are fortified with extra folic acid. Fruits and vegetables like spinach, strawberries, oranges, and broccoli have high levels of folic acid.

But don't forget the other Bs, says Nancy Kennedy, MS, RD, a nutritionist at the Ministrelli Women's Heart Center at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich. Vitamins B-6 and B-12 are also important in lowering homocysteine. "Many clinicians emphasize folic acid, but actually all three B vitamins are involved in the metabolism of homocysteine, and B-6 is one of the vitamins that is typically very low in the American diet," she says. The American Dietetic Association (ADA) suggests 2 mg of B-6 and 6 micrograms of B-12. Beef liver, baked potatoes, watermelon, and banana are rich in B-6, while milk, meats (beef, pork, lamb, veal, fish, poultry), eggs, and cheese are replete with B-12.

Nixing Your Heart Risks With Niacin

Niacin (also known as vitamin B-3) helps increase HDL or "good" cholesterol levels. It comes in over-the-counter preparations and as dietary supplements. It's also found in dairy products, poultry, fish, lean meats, nuts, and eggs. Legumes and enriched breads and cereals may also contain some niacin. Poon recommends that people with low HDL levels take 500 mg of niacin each day, building up to 1,000 mg.

But, he cautions, this should be monitored by a doctor because each person is different. "It can have some side effects and is not for everybody, particularly people who already have high HDL levels," he tells WebMD. Flushing, itching, and nausea and vomiting can occur.

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