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American Heart Association Comment: The Effect Of Folic Acid Fortification On Plasma Folate And Total Homocysteine Concentrations

Researchers at the Framingham Offspring Study report that the federal government's requirement that bread and other grain food products be supplemented with the vitamin folate. This government policy, which was implemented in 1998 to reduce the number of infants born with spina bifada and other neural tube defects, has resulted in substantial improvements in the blood levels of folate of Americans and may have implications for reducing risk of heart attacks and strokes.

In the study population, flour supplementation with the B vitamin folate increased the blood levels of folate and reduced blood levels of homocysteine, a natural byproduct of the body's metabolism of food. Several previous studies have linked high blood levels of homocysteine with increased risk for heart attack and stroke.

In the body, folate and other B vitamins break down homocysteine. Therefore, high blood levels of folate, found naturally in green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits and beans, are associated with low levels of homocysteine.

Robert H. Eckel, M.D., chairman of the American Heart Association's Nutrition Committee and professor of medicine and physiology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, says the Framingham researchers "took advantage of a rare opportunity" to examine the relationship between population-wide folate fortification and folate's association with homocysteine concentrations in the blood.

"This study is important because it provides us with important information about the impact of consuming a specific amount of folate and folate's impact on homocysteine levels in the blood," says Eckel. "Most of the information that we have about folate and homocysteine is based on population-based studies wherein people self-report on their diet and other life-style factors. Population-based studies, like the Framingham Offspring study, allow us to see a trend, but it is unusual to have an explanation for trends as quickly and dramatically
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Contact: Darcy Spitz
dspitz@heart.org
212-878-5940
American Heart Association
12-May-1999


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