Folic acid surprisingly doesn't decrease risk of heart disease

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High levels of the amino acid homocysteine have been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, so it would make sense that homocysteine-lowering supplements like folic acid could reduce one s risk of heart disease but a new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine failed to find evidence supporting such an effect. In a meta-analysis of 37,485 people from eight large randomized trials, researchers compared folic acid against placebo in its ability to lower the risk of heart disease, stroke or cancer. They found that patients in both groups were at equal risk of heart attack or stroke, even though the folic acid group had a 25 percent reduction in homocysteine levels. There was also no difference in the chances of developing cancer or in total mortality (death rate) between the two groups. On a positive note, researchers concluded that the folic acid supplements pose no harmful effects.

That s a good thing to know considering many cereals and other foods are folate-fortified since folic acid intake during the early stages of pregnancy is vital in preventing neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida. ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan advises, For maximal protection against these severe defects, folate should be taken even before a woman is aware that she is pregnant that s why food fortification is so important.

Clearly, I have nothing against folic acid, but the data demonstrates that, unfortunately, it has no beneficial effect on heart disease, says ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross.