48,000 Lives Saved by Vitamin Additive
Adding Folic Acid to Flour Cut Stroke, Heart Deaths
March 5, 2004 -- It was meant to prevent birth defects. And it did -- but adding folic acid to flour saved lots of adult lives, too.
A kind of B vitamin, folic acid is essential for healthy fetal development. It's so important that in 1996, the U.S. required that it be added to all enriched grain products.
But folic acid has another benefit -- this one for adults. It lowers blood levels of a bad actor called homocysteine. High homocysteine levels weaken the walls of blood vessels, making a person more prone to heart disease and stroke.
By 2001, the CDC estimates, the enrichment program kept 31,000 Americans from dying of stroke and 17,000 from dying of heart disease.
"We found evidence of a threefold acceleration in the decline of stroke-associated mortality [dating from the time of] fortification of flour with folic acid," CDC medical epidemiologist Lorenzo D. Botto, MD, says in a news release.
Botto announced the findings at this week's 44th annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention, sponsored by the American Heart Association.
Botto and colleagues analyzed U.S. death certificates from 1990 to 2001. They found that in the three years after the addition of folic acid to flour, stroke deaths dropped by as much as 15%.
Importantly, the researchers found that the folic acid benefit cut across all racial and ethnic lines. It applied to men as well as to women.