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Women hear that they need folic acid before and during pregnancy to prevent birth defects. This nutrient, known as folate or vitamin B-9, is used for the production, repair and functioning of your body’s DNA. Folic acid helps break down homocysteine, an amino acid in the blood.
“Dietary folic acid and vitamins B-6 and B-12 help regulate homocysteine levels,” says Palmetto Health Heart Hospital cardiologist Dr. Gopi Shah. “If not regulated, the elevated homocysteine levels have been linked to birth defects, blood clots and other serious conditions, including heart problems.”
The American Heart Association reports that elevated homocysteine levels are related to a higher risk of:
• coronary heart disease
• peripheral vascular disease (fatty deposits in the peripheral arteries)
• atherosclerosis (fatty deposits in blood vessels)
“An early stage of atherosclerosis involves the dysfunction of the cells lining the blood vessels, also known as the vascular endothelium. In a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, folic acid helped restore healthy endothelium, as well as regulate homocysteine levels in heart disease patients,” Dr. Shah says.
Also, recent studies released by the American Medical Association state that higher folic acid intake by women is associated with a decreased risk of hypertension, also known as high blood pressure.
Shah advises patients at high risk for heart disease to get enough folic acid, B-6 and B-12 vitamins in their diet by eating at least five servings of fruit and leafy, green vegetables a day. The recommended daily amount of folic acid is 400 micrograms (400 mcg). Supplements should only be used when the diet does not provide enough.
“Getting enough folic acid treats just one risk factor,” says Dr. Shah. “Cardiac risk reduction is an individualized approach that must take into consideration overall risk factors and diet.”
FOLIC ACID-PACED FOODS
It is simple to add folic acid to your diet. Your breakfast cereal contains at least 20 percent of your daily dose because the Food and Drug Administration requires that food manufacturers add it to enriched grain products. Other important folic acid-packed foods include:
• collard greens
• nuts and seeds