International Health News

Folic acid and vitamin B6 help prevent heart attacks

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have just released a major study which shows that a higher intake of folic acid and vitamin-B6 (pyridoxine) protects women against nonfatal heart attacks (myocardial infarction) and fatal coronary heart disease (CHD). The study involved over 80,000 female nurses who in 1980 completed food frequency questionnaires. The questionnaires were updated in 1984, 1986 and 1990 and also gathered information on the use of vitamin supplements. By 1994 658 of the women had suffered a nonfatal heart attack (MI) and 281 had died of coronary heart disease. Statistical analysis showed that women whose intake of folate (folic acid) exceeded 545 micrograms/day had a 31 per cent lower risk of having a heart attack or fatal CHD than did women whose intake was less than 153 micrograms/day. Similarly, women whose intake of vitamin B-6 was greater than 5.9 milligrams/day had a 33 per cent lower risk. Women with the highest intake of both folate and vitamin B-6 had a 45 per cent lower risk than women with the lowest combined intake. These risk reductions were independent of other cardiovascular risk factors such as smoking, hypertension, alcohol consumption, and the intake of fiber, vitamin-E and saturated, polyunsaturated and trans-fatty acids. Multivitamins and other vitamin supplements were by far the largest contributors to the intakes of both folate and vitamin B-6.

The researchers found a linear decline in the risk of CHD with increased folate intake (5.8 per cent decrease for each 100 micrograms/day increase in intake) in the range between 150 to 700 micrograms/day. They conclude that the lowest risk was among women whose folate intake was above 400 micrograms/day and whose vitamin B-6 intake was above 3 milligrams/day. These values are considerably higher than the current Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) of 200 micrograms and 1.6 milligrams respectively. The researchers also point out that almost 90 per cent of all American women have a folate intake below 400 micrograms/day with the average national intake being only 224 micrograms/day. A high folate intake was found to be particularly important among women who consumed one or more alcoholic drinks per day. In this group those with the highest folate intake reduced their risk of MI and CHD by an astounding 73 per cent when compared to women with a low intake. The researchers were not able to evaluate the benefits of supplementation with more than 1000 micrograms/day of folate.
Rimm, Eric B., et al. Folate and vitamin B-6 from diet and supplements in relation to risk of coronary heart disease among women. Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 279, February 4, 1998, pp. 359-64
McCully, Kilmer S. Homocysteine, folate, vitamin B-6, and cardiovascular disease. Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 279, February 4, 1998, pp. 392-93 (editorial)

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