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Folic Acid Reduces Heart Disease Risk Factor

Folic Acid Shown to Reduce Risk Factor for Heart Disease

Regular doses of folic acid have been shown to reduce an important risk factor for heart disease, in a major clinical trial conducted in New Zealand and Australia.

The findings of the study were recently reported in the prestigious European Heart Journal.

The University of Auckland Clinical Trials Research Unit coordinated the PACIFIC study, which was conducted among 723 people with a history of coronary heart disease from 28 clinical cardiology centres study centres in Australia and New Zealand.

The study group was randomly assigned to receive either 2mg of folic acid daily, or a lower daily dose of 0.2 mg or placebo (a blank sample).

Project Manager Judy Murphy says the results indicate that folic acid is an inexpensive and effective way of reducing the risk of heart disease by lowering blood homocysteine levels (an amino acid). High levels of homocysteine, found in people deficient in B vitamins, have been linked to the development of coronary heart disease.

“The study tested the theory that regular doses of folic acid would reduce homocysteine levels, when compared with a control group whose members took a placebo. The study also tested the effectiveness of a higher pharmacological daily dosage, compared with the dose an individual would gain by eating food fortified with folic acid.

“The findings demonstrated that folic acid supplementation reduced homocysteine levels among individuals with a history of coronary heart disease. The reduction achieved with the higher level of supplementation was significantly greater than that achieved with the lower dose.

“The PACIFIC Study Group concluded that fortification of foods with folic acid should result in population-wide lower levels of homocysteine in the blood. But high-dose pharmacological supplementation would produce greater reductions for high-risk individuals.

“Before implementing such a strategy, though, further research is probably required to fully assess the benefits and risks of folic acid supplementation in our diet,” said Ms Murphy.

Folic acid is one of the vitamin B group and is found abundantly in green leafy vegetables. Taking folic acid supplementation is known to reduce the incidence of neural tube birth defects, for example spina bifida.

Some countries, such as the United States, have mandatory fortification of grain products to boost people’s daily intake of folic acid.

New Zealand legislation introduced in 1995, however, permits only voluntary addition of folic acid to selected foods such as flour, breakfast cereals, pasta, some biscuits, bread, soy beverages, yeast extracts, fruit and vegetable juices. (Source: Ministry of Health website).

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