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Dr Russ Blog - B Vitamins to Prevent Heart Disease? Maybe Not...
B Vitamins to Prevent Heart Disease? Maybe Not...
Created on 6/25/2010

T asks about B vitamin use in the light of the news about a recently published study. The data appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a highly respected medical journal, and was very well done. Here are the details:

For years doctors and others have been aware of a strong association between high levels of an amino acid called homocysteine and the risk of cardiovascular disease (heart attack and stroke). Also for years, unfortunately, no one has been really sure whether the high levels of homocysteine played any role in causing vascular disease or simply showed up when blood vessels were sick.

Many people started taking B vitamins, specifically folic acid and vitamin B12, in an effort to lower their risk for heart disease and stroke once they learned they had high homocysteine levels. Often this was at the insistance of their doctors. But in recent years the "homocysteine hypothesis" of heart disease has been questioned severely. This latest trial T refers to falls into the same category.

Researchers identified and enrolled a large number of people in Britain (that's important, as you'll see in a moment) with a history of heart attack and gave them either a placebo pill or a pill containing both folic acid and vitamin B12 (the subjects didn't know whether they were taking a placebo or not). After an avergage of 6.7 years of following the people in the study guess what?

No significant differences between those taking placebo vs. those taking the B vitamins with respect to heart attack, stroke, or death. This even though homocysteine levels dropped significantly in those taking the B vitamins.

Why is it important that the study took place in Britain? Unlike here in the US, at the time the UK did not demand the addition of folic acid to flour (initiated nationally once it was determined that folic acid could help prevent certain birth defects).

There's another interesting point about this study - recently, even the safety of folic acid has been called into question, especially as relates to at least colon cancer. Some studies had shown an increased risk of cancer with high folic acid intakes. In this study - no increased risk of cancer with folic acid.

Two things to keep in mind:
1) Only people who had experienced a heart attack in the past were enrolled in the trial, so we're still not completely sure if B vitamins have any role in people without established vascular disease.
2) The trial was funded by a drug company. That doesn't change the results, though.

What to do? Honestly, T, it still comes back to living healthily - eat well, exercise regularly, manage your stress in good ways, and get adequate sleep. And have a good relastionship with a trusted healthcare provider who can help direct you in your unique quest for being well.

I hope this helps, T. Be well.
Dr. Russ
** Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment. **

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