Evidence is increasingly compelling that B vitamin supplementation is not an effective way to reduce cardiovascular risk. Elevated blood levels of a protein called homocysteine are associated with a substantial increase in atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arteries) and cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk. Dietary deficiencies of folic acid and vitamins B12, which contribute to elevated homocysteine, are also associated with increased CVD risk. Yet many large, randomized control trials have not shown any benefit in heart disease risk from correcting elevated homocysteine levels with the folic acid and B12 supplementation.
The researchers behind the SEARCH Collaborative Group compared 6,000 heart attack survivors who were supplemented 2 milligrams of folic acid and 1 milligram of vitamin B12 for 7 years with the same number of matched controls (given a placebo) to rule out potential study design flaws. What they found was that despite lowering homocysteine levels, folic acid and B12 supplementation was no better (or worse) than a placebo at preventing future cardiovascular events (defined as incidence or death from stroke, heart attack, or coronary heart disease).
It is also important to note that the risk of developing cancer was not significantly different between the supplemented group and the control group. This may be of interest to those of you who read about folic acid and cancer risk in a previous article published by FYI Living.
Based on available evidence, the following strategies are more effective at protecting against cardiovascular disease than taking a B-vitamin supplement:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Eat a heart-healthy diet rich in folate (whole grains, beans, asparagus, beets, dark leafy greens, citrus fruits) and B12 (chicken, fish, lean meats, eggs, low-fat milk, fortified breakfast cereal)
- Know your family history for diseases like diabetes, obesity, and heart disease
- Stop smoking
- Stay active (30-60 minutes of moderate exercise on most days)
- Take medications for heart-related conditions as prescribed
Folic acid and vitamin B12 are vital nutrients for cell health, DNA replication, neurological function, and prevention of anemia, especially during periods of rapid growth, like infancy and pregnancy. For these reasons, it makes the most sense to meet your dietary needs for these, and other nutrients as outlined by the National Institute of Health, and don’t rely on popping a vitamin pill to lower your disease risk.