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B Vitamins Don't Help in Heart Disease

Study Shows Heart Disease Patients Don't Cut Heart Risk by Taking Folic Acid and Other B Vitamins

No Support for B Vitamins continued...

But even those patients weren't less likely to die of any cause, suffer a nonfatal heart attack or clot-related stroke, be hospitalized due to unstable angina (chest pain), or need to have a narrowed or blocked coronary artery surgically reopened.

Those "events" happened to similar percentages of patients -- ranging from 12% to 16% -- in each group. The differences in those percentages were so small that they may have been due to chance.

"Our findings do not support the use of B vitamins as secondary prevention in patients with coronary artery disease," write the researchers, who included Marta Ebbing, MD, of Norway's Haukeland University Hospital.

What About Healthy People?

The results "were not particularly surprising," Andrew Shao, PhD, vice president for scientific and regulatory affairs at the Council for Responsible Nutrition, tells WebMD.

Noting that several other trials in recent years have reached the same conclusions, Shao says "it appears to be consistent that [for] subjects who have underlying cardiovascular disease and [are] on multiple medications ... adding B vitamins on top of a whole host of other medications doesn't appear to provide any further benefit."

But Shao says similar trials haven't been done in healthy people to see if B vitamins help prevent heart disease from happening in the first place. Such trials aren't likely to happen, says Shao, because they would need to last decades and include hundreds of thousands of people. "Unfortunately, they're logistically impossible and cost-prohibitive."

Shao points to observational studies that show that people with higher homocysteine levels "are at much higher risk for cardiovascular disease." He acknowledges that observational trials don't prove cause and effect -- that is, they don't show whether homocysteine causes heart disease or rides along with heart disease without instigating it.

"That's an inherent limitation" of observational studies, says Shao, adding that the Norwegian study is limited because "it applies only to a very narrow section of the population. It doesn't answer the question that we're all interested in," which is what is the effect of B vitamin supplements in healthy people.

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