A simple vitamin deficiency could trigger 30 percent to 40 percent of the heart attacks and strokes suffered by American men each year, a researcher reported Monday.
This startling revelation, emerging from a few dozen new studies, means that vitamin supplements might prevent many of those heart attacks, saving the country untold suffering and billions of dollars in medical costs.
The vitamin is folic acid, heralded in recent years for its critical role in preventing birth defects.
Folic acid is found in green leafy vegetables such as brussels sprouts, spinach and lettuce and in many fruits, including apples and oranges. It also is available in most multiple vitamin supplements.
“This is so new, there aren’t recommendations,” said Dr. Judith Hall, a geneticist at the University of British Columbia. She described the new findings at a genetics meeting at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor.
Studies have shown that ensur ing adequate folic acid levels in women when they get pregnant could cut the rate of birth defects in half. The job could be accomplished at a cost of about 1 cent per person per day, Hall said.
The importance of folic acid is growing as studies suggest it likewise might produce reductions of up to 40 percent in heart attacks and strokes. So far, the studies have been done only on men.
Studies show that high levels of a natural substance called homocysteine - which has many roles in the body - are associated with an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.
About 400 micrograms of folic acid per day seem to be enough to lower homocysteine to a safe level, Hall said. It takes about six cups of brussels sprouts to supply that, but other foods have higher concentrations.