Folic acid has been making a name for itself for its possible connection to preventing heart disease—the No. 1 cause of death in the United States. To understand folic acid’s role in this phenomenon, it is important to understand what folic acid is and how it relates to the heart.
Folic Acid and Folate
Folic acid is the simple, synthetic form of folate–a natural form of the B vitamin also known as B9. Folate is naturally found in significant quantities in foods, such as beef, cheese, chicken, green leafy vegetables, lamb, legumes, lentils, liver, mushroom, milk, oranges, pork, root vegetables, salmon, tuna, whole grains and whole wheat.
Folic acid, on the other hand, can be found in most multivitamins and has been added to fortify several foods, such as pasta, bread and breakfast cereals. Although not technically the same, both play the same role once they are absorbed by the body.
A heart attack refers to the formation of areas of local tissue death or decay in the heart muscle. The heart ceases to function normally. This happens when blood supply to an area of the heart is cut off, usually as a result of clogged arteries due to a blood clot. The severity of the heart attack depends on the size and area affected. Regardless of how mild or severe it is, the damage to the heart can’t be repaired.
Homocysteine is a form of amino acid in the blood. Evidence shows that high levels of which may promote fatty deposits in the arteries. Such fatty deposits can damage the inner lining of the arteries. The result is a blood clot. As mentioned above, blood clots in an already narrowed artery will cut off blood supply resulting to a heart attack.
Folic Acid and Effects on Homocysteine Level
Folic acid, along with the other B vitamins, is necessary to break down homocysteine in the body. This consequently prevents build up. Studies have also shown that folic acid not only prevents homocysteine accumulation, but it also could be essential in lowering already heightened levels. Researchers are still trying to find out how much folic acid, B6 and B12 are needed to lower homocysteine levels.
Although the American Heart Association has acknowledged the relationship between homocysteine levels and heart attacks, they have not designated elevated homocysteine levels as a major risk factor for heart disease. In fact, they do not encourage taking folic acid and B vitamins supplements to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Rather, they recommend getting your daily allowance of folic acid (400 micrograms) from a balanced diet of meat, fruits and vegetables. They stress the fact that supplements should only be taken when a healthy diet is not enough.