Folic Acid Prevents High Blood Pressure in Women
by Maureen Williams
prevalence is increasing as the population ages. Blood pressure is influenced by the
openness and elasticity of the blood vessels; HTN indicates loss of elasticity,
narrowing of the vessels, or both. It is frequently caused by plaque formation along
the inner vessel walls (atherosclerosis). Because the heart pumps against the
resistance (pressure) of the arteries, HTN increases the work the heart must do to
keep blood flowing to all parts of the body. Chronic HTN can therefore cause
thickening of the heart muscle and eventual heart failure. HTN also increases the risk
of stroke and kidney failure. Preventing HTN is critical to reducing the incidence of
heart disease, the leading cause of death in the US. Public health recommendations
are based on evidence that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated
fats, combined with regular moderate exercise, can protect against HTN.

Folic acid, one of the B vitamins, occurs naturally in many plant foods (such as beans
and green leafy vegetables) and is commonly found in multivitamins and B-complex
supplements. Due to its role in preventing some birth defects, a number of foods are
now fortified with folic acid, such as cold cereals and other grain products. Along with
vitamins B6 and B12, folic acid lowers blood levels of homocysteine, an amino acid
that has been found to be a heart disease risk factor. Several small studies have
suggested that folic acid supplements might improve the health of the vessel walls
and lower blood pressure.

Data from two previous studies of health and disease patterns in women in the US,
known as the Nurses' Health Study I and II, were used in the current study to
examine the effect of dietary and supplemental folic acid intake on HTN.

More than 238,000 women participated in the two studies. One study included
women between 25 and 42 years old and the other included women between 30 and
55 years old. Women in both studies answered questionnaires about health and
dietary habits upon enrollment. For both studies, follow-up health questionnaires
were filled out every two years for eight years, and a follow-up diet questionnaire
was answered after four years.

The study involving younger women found that those who consumed the most total
folic acid (more than 1,000 mcg per day) from both diet and supplements had a 46%
lower risk of HTN than those who consumed the least total folic acid (less than 200
mcg per day). In the study with older women, consuming the most folic acid afforded
an 18% risk reduction compared with consuming the least. In women whose dietary
folic acid was less than 200 mcg per day, a combined dietary and supplemental folic
acid intake of at least 800 mcg per day reduced HTN risk, relative to a combined
intake of less than 200 mcg per day, by 45% in the study with younger women and
39% in the study with older women. In women who did not take supplements,
getting the currently recommended 400 mcg per day from food was not protective
against HTN in either study.

This analysis of the results from two studies provides evidence that folic acid can
significantly reduce HTN risk in women. It further suggests that supplementing with
folic acid is an effective way to increase intake to a level that protects against HTN.
Future studies should further examine the relationship between folic acid intake and
HTN risk, as well as the possible role for folic acid supplements in reducing blood
pressure in people with HTN.

About The Author

For more Vitamin Information and other Vitamin Articles, visit
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor's degree from the University of
Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in
Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with
traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular
contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
Women who get lots of folic acid
from both diet and supplements
have less chance of developing
high blood pressure than women
who get very little, according to
a study in the Journal of the
American Medical Association
(2005;293:320-9) that
re-analyzed data from two
previous studies.

Hypertension (HTN) is defined as
blood pressure higher than
140/90 mm Hg. HTN affects
approximately 65 million people
in the United States, and the
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