B vitamin (folic acid) could protect the elderly from heart disease

March 12, 2002 in Heart Health, Nutrition for Older Adults, Nutrition Topics in the News

B vitamin (folic acid) could protect the elderly from heart disease

Elderly people need to boost the amount of folic acid they take to almost three times current recommended levels to minimize the risk of stroke, blood clots and heart disease, say researchers from the University of Aberdeen Medical School.

The 3-year study involved 368 men and women aged 65 to 75 who were given folic acid tablets of varying strengths over a 6-week period. Only those taking the highest level of folate, between 400 and 600 micrograms, recorded a drop in homocysteine levels. High levels of this amino acid have been linked to heart and blood vessel disease.

Britain's Committee on Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy recommends an extra intake of 200 micrograms a day of folate for people over 50 on top of the 300 most people get in their diets. (In Canada and the U.S. the recommended dietary allowance is 400 micrograms per day.) The study found that it should be almost three times that amount to ensure 95% of the elderly were not at risk from high homocysteine, and therefore vascular disease. This is not achievable for most people because of the amount of fruit and vegetables they would have to consume. Fortified food with folic acid such as biscuits, cakes and breakfast cereals could provide the solution in the UK.

However, adding too much folate can mask a potentially dangerous deficiency in vitamin B12 and can lead to nerve damage. Elderly people are particularly prone to vitamin B12 deficiency because with age, they become less efficient at absorbing it from foods. Indeed, many of the elderly in this study had marginal vitamin B12 deficiency that was not detected by the usual test.

The best food sources of folate (folic acid) include lentils, spinach, asparagus, avocado, artichokes and orange juice. In North America flour is fortified with folic acid; therefore breads and pasta are also sources of folic acid.

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