Folic Acid Prevents High Blood Pressure in Women
by: Maureen Williams
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 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.

This article was posted on March 04, 2005



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