Long known for its role in preventing anemia in expectant mothers and spinal birth defects in newborns, the B vitamin folate, found in leafy green vegetables, beans and nuts has now been shown to blunt the damaging effects of heart attack when given in short-term, high doses to test animals.
In a new study, an international team of heart experts at Johns Hopkins and elsewhere report that rats fed 10 milligrams daily of folate, also known as folic acid or vitamin B9, for a week prior to heart attack had smaller infarcts than rats who took no supplements. On average, researchers say, the amount of muscle tissue exposed to damage and scarred by the arterial blockage was shrunk to less than a tenth.
The teams findings, set for publication in the April 8 edition of the journal Circulation, come just weeks after other international studies in humans suggested that low-dose folic acid supplements may prevent dementia in the elderly and premature births.
We want to emphasize that it is premature for people to begin taking high doses of folic acid, says senior study investigator David Kass, M.D., a professor at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and its Heart Institute.
But if human studies prove equally effective, then high-dose folate could be given to high-risk groups to guard against possible heart attack or to people while they are having one, says Kass.
The more likely and most practical advantage to ingesting supplements, he says, lies in folic acids potential to act as a short-term buffer for people who may be having a heart attack and who rush to their local emergency room complaining of chest pain.
Clinical trials are expected in the near future, although Kass says a major challenge in testing is that a high dose of folic acid for humans comparable to that given the rats would require an average-size adult to swallow more than 200 one-milligram pills per day, an impractical and unrealistic
|Contact: David March|
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions