British researchers have found enough scientific evidence to support the claim that folic acid is both an easy and inexpensive way to reduce heart disease and strokes.
The researchers examined different studies to see whether raised homocysteine was a cause of cardiovascular disease and also reviewed the results of studies that tested the effects of lowered homocysteine levels.
Lead author Dr. David S Wald, a cardiologist, and colleagues at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, Barts and the Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry, in London, say that on the basis of their review they found that homocysteine caused heart attacks and strokes, and folic acid could reduce that risk.
Dr. Wald believes that folic acid is a 'much undervalued vitamin,' which not only prevents the serious birth defect spina bifida, but can also reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
There has been considerable debate as to whether raised homocysteine levels in the blood causes heart disease and stroke, and whether folic acid, which lowers homocysteine, will help reduce the risk of these disorders.
The studies examined varied in focus; while some examined homocysteine and the occurrence of heart attacks and strokes in large numbers of people (cohort studies), others focused on people with a common genetic variant which increases homocysteine levels to a small extent (genetic studies), while others tested the effects of lowering homocysteine levels (randomized controlled trials).
The cohort and genetic studies provided quite similar results which demonstrated a protective effect from lower homocysteine levels, and the randomized trials,though small also showed the expected protective effects of folic acid.
The authors say they came to the conclusion that homocysteine is a cause of cardiovascular disease and folic acid, by reducing the homocysteine levels, will therefore reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Folate is vital for reproduction and for the health of the nervous system and helps the body form red blood cells and helps in the formation of genetic material within every body cell.
A good source of folate or folic acid are green vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli and Brussel sprouts, as well as nuts, pulses and wholegrain products and many fruits such as oranges.
The research is published in the British Medical Journal.