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Nutrition in a Nutshell #2

What's all this Fuss about Folate?

by Barbara Hiebert, R.D.

Doctors and dietitians alike are buzzing over the recent news about Folate. So what's all the fuss about? To answer that question, let me take you back a few years to the early 1970's.

Over 28 years ago a promising young doctor by the name of Kilmer McCully, practicing at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston first proposed a link between the amino acid called "homocysteine" and heart disease. He had studied several cases of children who died at very young ages of coronary artery disease (hardening of the arteries), due to a genetic predisposition to high homocysteine levels in the blood. Dr. McCully began to test his theory on rabbits. The scientific community took little interest in his work at the time, some even laughing at his ideas.

Current research from several top institutions in the country, including Tufts University and the Cleveland Clinic, support his theories about homocysteine and heart disease. The Physician's Health Study found that subjects with the highest plasma homocysteine levels had a 3.4 greater risk of myocardial infarction than those with normal levels. Tufts University reported that risk began to rise with homocysteine levels as low as 11.4 umol per liter, levels which were previously considered to be normal.

High homocysteine levels were not the only "bad guys" discovered by these studies. The Cleveland Clinic reported that Vitamin B6 deficiency resulted in 4 times the risk of coronary heart disease.

So how can we improve our risk factors in light of this new information? Green leafy vegetables are an excellent source of folate, however most of us do not consume amounts sufficient enough to reduce risk.

My recommendation is to take a daily multivitamin containing 400 ug. of Folate (folic acid, folacin), 2 mg. of Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) and 1 mg. of Vitamin B12. Most general brands, including the cheaper generic brands, will provide what you need. Check the label on the back to be sure.

Please let me know if you have other ideas or questions! My e-mail address is: BarbaraHi@Helix.org; snail mail: 2412 Crest Rd. Baltimore, MD 21209.