Studys Suggest Folic Acid Reduces the Risk of High Blood Pressure and Anemia in Women
Medical Author: Melissa Stoppler, M.D.
Medical Editor: Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D.
Folic acid , also known as folate, is well recognized for its value in the prevention of certain birth defects. It may have another important health benefit. A large study showed that women who consumed more folic acid had a significantly reduced risk of developing high blood pressure (hypertension).
Folic acid is one of the B vitamins found in foods such as leafy green vegetables, fruits, dried beans, and peas. A synthetic form of folic acid is used in dietary supplements and fortified foods. Folic acid acts by helping the body produce and maintain new cells. In particular, red blood cell formation is dependent upon adequate levels of this vitamin. Folic acid deficiency is a known cause of anemia in both adults and children. Folate may also help cells resist changes in their DNA associated with the development of cancer.
Studies have shown that beginning folic acid supplementation before conception significantly reduces the incidence of birth defects known as neural tube defects (malformations of the spine and brain) such as spina bifida and anencephaly. Folic acid supplements are routinely prescribed for women who may become pregnant.
Doctors at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston examined medical records from over 150,000 women ranging in age from 23 to 70, followed for over eight years, and found that those who took folic acid supplements had a reduced risk for the development of hypertension. The researchers caution that this study does not prove that folic acid supplements can be used to treat high blood pressure, since a clinical trial has not been carried out that answers this question. Still, the results are encouraging and point to a possible additional benefit of dietary folic acid supplementation.
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Folic acid supplements are inexpensive, readily available without a prescription, and are considered safe.
Reference: Forman JP, Rimm EB, Stampfer MJ, Curhan GC. Folate intake and the risk of incident hypertension among US women. JAMA. 2005 Jan 19;293:320-9.