Heart of the matter

Researchers have focussed on folic acid as a potential heart cure

 
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

Waiting for the magic of folic (Credit: Arvind Yadav /CSE)VITAMINS are the key to a healthy heart: this theory -- once considered bunkum by heart specialists -- has again gained widespread currency. Of major interest to medical circles at the moment is folic acid, a vitamin of the b group.

How folic acid works on the heart is explained by its role in reducing the amounts of an amino acid called homocysteine in the blood. Researchers say that in recent years they have come across increasing evidence of unusually high levels of homocysteine in a large number of people. Homocysteine, they insist, spells danger because it can injure blood vessels, causing atherosclerosis, heart attacks and strokes. Folic acid apparently can minimise such damage by reducing blood levels of homocysteine to a safe level.

A firm believer in the need for tough curbs on homocysteine -- Meier Stampfer, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard Medical School says that homocysteine is "in the same league as cholesterol" as a risk factor for heart disease and strokes.

Irwin Rosenberg, of the Human Nutrition Centre at Tufts University School of Medicine, claims that higher homocysteine levels are easier to treat than aberrant cholesterol levels which may not respond to even the most sensible diet.

Abundant amounts of folic acid, he says, will result in a significant drop in homocysteine levels. The vitamin is present in many fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly dark green leafy vegetables and orange juice. One may also pop folic acid tablets.

Folic acid, however, still has to undergo a clinical trial before it gains wider acceptance in the treatment of heart disease. Claude Lenfant, director, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute , says that although high homocysteine levels are an indubitable risk factor for heart disease, it is premature to recommend it as a heart disease cure.

Research at the institute however, seems to be stymied for want of funds. Private industry too is dragging its feet over sponsorships. Stampfer underlines the heart of the matter by pinpointing this indifference saying: "Folic acid just doesn't have that extra push. It is so cheap, not like the medicines for treating high blood pressure and high cholesterol...There is not much commercial interest."

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