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More evidence that B vitamins reduce heart disease risk

Data from the ongoing Nurses Health Study provide further evidence that consuming high levels of Folic acid and vitamin B6 can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease in women.

In a study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health looked at the links between these B vitamins and heart disease. The study involved over 80 000 female nurses who responded to a diet questionnaire which was mailed in 1980. As an outcome, the researchers included fatal and non-fatal heart attacks which occurred after 1980 and before 1994.

The results of the study showed a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease in women who regularly used multivitamins (the major source of folic acid and vitamin B6) and also in those with high dietary intakes of vitamin B6 and folic acid. Reduced risk was seen at intakes well above the folic acid RDA of 180 mcg per day.

The results also showed that the link between high folic acid intake and lower risk of cardiovascular disease was strongest in women who drank at least one alcoholic drink a day. The authors of the study conclude that "the cardiovascular benefits of moderate alcohol consumption may be partially offset unless women have high folate intake."

This study supports others which have found a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease in those with higher folic acid and vitamin B6 intakes. The researchers state that the current RDA for folate may not be adequate to minimize the risk of coronary disease. In an accompanying editorial Dr Kilmer S McCully of the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center at Providence, RI says that the findings encourage the view that intervention through supplementation, fortification and improved dietary intakes of folic acid and vitamin B6 should help to reduce the rate of cardiovascular disease.

In another study, reported in the journal circulation, researchers at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio, found that low blood levels of vitamin B6 and folic acid were associated with an increased risk of heart attacks and stroke. The researchers measured levels of homocysteine, folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 in 750 men with blood vessel disease and compared these to levels in 800 healthy people.

Results showed that those with the lowest levels of vitamin B6 and folic acid had a one and a half to two times greater risk of blood vessel disease than those with the highest levels.

JAMA 1998;279:359-64 and Circulation 1998;97:437-43