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Folic acid lowers stroke risk for those with high blood pressure

The study is most relevant for countries without fortified grains, where folate intake is inadequate.

By Brooks Hays
Folic acid lowers stroke risk for those with high blood pressure
Leafy greens are one good way to boost one's folate intake. Photo by YK/Shutterstock

BOSTON, March 18 (UPI) -- A new study in China offers evidence of the importance of folic acid in preventing strokes, especially among those with high blood pressure.

The study followed 20,000 Chinese adults, all with high blood pressure and with history of stroke or heart disease. Over a 4.5-year trial, patients who took both folic acid supplements along with the anti-hypertension drug enalapril were less likely to have had a stroke than those who took medicine alone.

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The cardiovascular benefits of folic acid, or folate, an important B vitamin, have been well documented. But in the United States, several studies showed folate supplements were no better at preventing strokes than a placebo.

But as this latest study shows, those results were likely the result of Americans' already high folate intake -- not proof of folic acid's futility as a boon to heart health.

The best way to get enough folic acid in the diet is to load up on green leafy vegetables, beans and citrus fruits. Of course, this isn't why most American's get plenty of the vitamin. In the United States, most grain-based food items, including wheat flour, cornmeal, pasta and rice, are fortified with folate. If there's one thing Americans love nearly as much as sugar and red meat, it's carbs.

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The latest study is most relevant for countries without fortified grains, where folate intake is inadequate.

Still, researchers say all people would be wise to make sure they're getting their vitamins and minerals, including folate, in the healthiest way possible -- that means whole fruits and vegetables and whole grains. A multivitamin can help fill in nutritional gaps.

"Fruits and vegetables are important sources of folate in the diet, and they also bring lots of other benefits, such as potassium and phytonutrients, that also help lower cardiovascular disease," Dr. Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told the Harvard Health Blog.

Willett co-authored an editorial that accompanied the new study, published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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