You Must Plug The Hole Before The Boat Sinks

October 11, 2005

A Norwegian study has shown that if you have already experienced an acute myocardial infarction, the risk of another such infarction will not be reduced by taking folic acid, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin B12, even if homocysteine levels are lowered thereby.
If you get a great deal of folic acid, the blood content of the amino acid homocysteine will be relatively low. So much is certain. When the content is low, the risk of blood clots in the heart or brain hemorrrhage – other things being equal – is also low. It is also safe, but both are statistics only.

With these facts in the bag, one is tempted to think that supplementation with folic acid must be a good idea. As you know, folic acid is the B vitamin that young women should take to avoid having children with spina bifida. One can agree with the American Heart Association, which advises everyone to get 0.4 mg of folic acid a day, the same dose that women should take as a supplement.

In Tromsø in Norway, the so-called NORVIT trial (Norwegian Vitamin Trial) was the first to test whether supplements also help heart patients who have already had a blood clot in the heart. If the media is to be believed, it ended with a scare.

The results, which were presented in September at this year’s congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), led directly to warnings against folic acid in the press: B vitamins could be dangerous for heart patients, it said, and our own Danish heart association was quick to announce, that folic acid is “still” not recommended for heart patients – even though the month before was said something close to the opposite.

But, as is so often the case, the reports were misleading. Strictly speaking, the Norwegian trial did not show that folic acid is dangerous. If you want to argue that it showed anything at all, it was that the risk of heart attack, stroke, or death decreased—albeit by only a few percent—in those who took 0.8 milligrams of folic acid a day for 3.5 years . However, this was not statistically certain.

The fact is that there were in fact not one, but three trials, with a total of 3,750 people, all of whom had had blood clots in the heart. One showed that a combination of folic acid, vitamin B6 and B12 led to approx. 20% more cases of blood clots in the heart than placebo (cheat pills). The second – the only one where only folic acid was used – showed no difference in reality. There was also no difference in the third trial, where the participants only received vitamin B6.

In one area, the experiments turned out to be successful: those who received folic acid achieved a drop in the blood homocysteine content of approx. 30%. Enough so that one could hope for a nice drop in the number of new blood clots. Which did not appear.

But the questions arise: Is it appropriate for heart patients to be careful about taking folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 at the same time?
Or are we talking about completely different anatomical conditions with secondary prophylaxis than there are with primary prophylaxis? After all, you have had a blood clot.

Also at the congress, the ESC’s designated commentator, Ian Graham, doubted the result. He believed that the experiment might have been too small and too complicated to be credible.

One can go a step further and think that the result is purely due to chance. In any case, it is not supported by any theory.
It is more likely that folic acid is simply not suitable for preventing blood clots in severely arteriosclerotic patients. – In other words secondary prophylaxis.

There is a lot of evidence that folic acid – and low homocysteine – slows the development of atherosclerosis in healthy people – i.e. primary prophylaxis. But the usefulness of this function diminishes when the calcification is already very advanced. The bottom plug must be inserted before the boat is sunk.

If folic acid is to prevent blood clots, you probably have to start in good time. On the other hand, the vitamin has other benefits. Among other things. experiments convincingly indicate that it helps to keep the brain young, even in the elderly.

By: Vitality Council

Bonaa KH. NORVIT: Randomized trial of homocysteine-lowering with B-vitamins for secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease after acute myocardial infarction. Program and Abstracts from the European Society of Cardiology Congress 2005; September 3-7, 2005; Stockholm, Sweden. Hot Line II. Iflg. Linda Brooks. NORVIT: The Norwegian vitamin trial. Medscape Sept. 2005. (Not published in a printed media).