Supplements linked to decreased risk
In this study, known as a meta-analysis, researchers reviewed 15 randomized controlled trials, which are considered more reliable than other study types, with a total of 55,764 participants to see if folic acid supplementation helped prevent strokes. All of the trials included folic acid supplementation for at least six months, and the number of strokes that occurred during the study period was tracked. In some of the studies, the participants ate folic acid-fortified foods as a regular part of their diet and in other studies they had little or no exposure to fortified foods.
Results showed that, overall, folic acid supplementation reduced the stroke risk by 8%. The risk was reduced by 11% when researchers looked at only those studies of people with little or no access to fortified foods. The authors note that a daily dose of 0.4 mg to 0.8 mg of folic acid appears to be adequate for stroke prevention.
The study authors state that these results are particularly important "for those living in China, India, and African countries" where folic acid is not routinely added to foods (fortification). They comment, "Our findings underscore the importance of identifying target populations that can particularly benefit from folic acid therapy." More research is needed on this topic.
The importance of folic acid
What is folic acid? Folic acid is a B vitamin that is important for cell growth and function and is well-known to help prevent birth defects such as spina bifida. Folic acid may also help lower blood levels of an amino acid called homocysteine, which has been linked to heart disease and stroke.
What are fortified foods? When a nutrient is added to a product before it reaches a store's shelves, that is called fortification. As this article points out, many countries do not routinely add folic acid to their food products, though the US government mandated in 1998 that some food products should be fortified to optimize people's intake. This helps address common nutritional deficiencies, but still isn't always enough to ensure that people are getting enough to prevent disease and optimize health. Foods commonly fortified with folic acid include grain products such as cereal and bread.
Should I take folic acid? Talk with a doctor about your nutritional needs and which supplements you should be taking in order to optimize your health. Folic acid is especially important for women planning to have children, as getting enough early in pregnancy is an important protection against certain birth defects.
(Int J Clin Pract 2012;66:544-51)