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Diet High in Folate and Vitamin B-12 May Reduce Risk of Heart Disease

By Elizabeth Tracey , MS
WebMD Health News

Dec. 6, 1999 (Baltimore) -- One of the many suspected risk factors for the development of heart disease appears to be high levels of a chemical called homocysteine in the blood. "There is evidence now that the risk from homocysteine is like that for cholesterol," says Dr. F. Xavier Pi-Sunyer, MD, professor of medicine at Columbia University, in an interview with WebMD. "The higher the homocysteine, the higher the risk."

Dr. Pi-Sunyer and colleagues report in the November issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that people who consume higher amounts of folate and vitamin B-12 see a significant reduction in the level of homocysteine in their blood. "We estimate that for some of these patients their risk for heart disease was reduced by 60-80%," he says.

The study looked at almost 500 people who had diabetes, high blood pressure, or high levels of cholesterol in their blood, or a combination. All of them would be expected to be at increased risk for heart disease based on these other conditions. Study participants were selected to receive either a prepared diet provided to them, or to make their own selections based on guidelines from the American Dietetic and American Diabetes Associations diets.

"I think one of the most significant things about this study is we were trying to give people a diet that would cover all their requirements for their particular health problem as well as making sure they got the vitamins and minerals," says Pi-Sunyer. "The current recommendation for folate is 400 micrograms per day. In this study some patients were receiving over 600 micrograms per day."

Those people who consumed the prepared diet and had the highest homocysteine levels prior to the start of the study saw the biggest reduction in their levels. Dr. Pi-Sunyer says that's because the prepared diet was supplemented with folate and vitamin B-12.

Pi-Sunyer says that getting additional folate is possible through increased consumption of foods that are high in the micronutrient, or by taking a supplement. Foods high in folate include liver, kidney, nuts, spinach, oranges, and bananas. Many prepared foods are also being supplemented with folate because of its association with a reduction of a common birth defect.

Dr. Roger Blumenthal, assistant professor of cardiology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, commented on the study for WebMD. He says, "We still haven't proven that lowering homocysteine levels is beneficial for reducing the risk of cardiovascular [heart] disease, but this study supports the idea that consuming a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables has multiple benefits, and perhaps adding a multivitamin to that is a good idea."

Vital Information:

  • There is evidence that high levels of a chemical in the blood known as homocysteine increases the risk of heart disease.
  • A new study shows that a diet high in folate and vitamin B-12 can significantly reduce homocysteine levels, especially in people whose levels are highest.
  • Foods that are high in folate include liver, kidney, nuts, spinach, oranges, and bananas.

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