When scientists want a definitive answer about whether or not a therapeutic agent like a drug or nutrient really influences health, they conduct a meta-analysis — a study that analyzes lots of other studies. A recent meta-analysis of 45 years of research shows a strong link between folate (a type of B vitamin) and the prevention of heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular problems.
Chinese researchers from Nanjing Medical University looked at 15 studies on the link between folate and cardiovascular disease. Eight of the studies looked at dietary intake of folate, and seven looked at levels of folate in the blood. Every study produced the same result: the more folate in your diet and the more folate in your blood, the lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. Overall, those with the most folate in their diet or blood had a 31% lower risk of cardiovascular disease than those with the least.
To put that finding in perspective, cholesterol-lowering statin drugs reduce the risk of a first heart attack or stroke (called primary prevention) by less than 2% — so folate may be 15-25 times more powerful at preventing heart disease than statins! And a lot cheaper and safer!
How much folate should you aim for? The study linked every 200 mcg increase in dietary intake to a 12% decrease in risk of cardiovascular disease — 200 mcg to 12%, 400 mcg to 24%, and so on. But that doesn't mean the sky's the limit.
Some recent research indicated a very weak link between a daily intake of over 800 mcg of folate and breast cancer. Since it's better to err on the side of safety, I recommend a daily intake of 400 mcg.
"Folate and risk of coronary heart disease: A meta-analysis of prospective studies," Wang ZM, Zhou B, Nie ZL, Gao W, Wang YS, Zhao H, Zhu J, Yan JJ, Yang ZJ, Wang LS.Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2011 Sep 14. [Epub ahead of print].
Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D. is one of the world's leading integrative medical authorities on fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. He is the lead author of four research studies on their treatments, and has published numerous health & wellness books, including the bestseller on fibromyalgia From Fatigued to Fantastic! and The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution. Dr. Teitelbaum is one of the most frequently quoted fibromyalgia experts in the world and appears often as a guest on news and talk shows nationwide including Good Morning America, The Dr. Oz Show, Oprah & Friends, CNN, and Fox News Health.