Folic Acid Can Prevent High Blood Pressure in Women

Folic Acid Also Shown to Reduce the Risk of Stroke

Folic acid pills.
Folic acid pills. Ruth Jenkinson/Getty Images

What is Folic Acid?

Folic acid is a water soluble form of vitamin B9. It is the synthetic form of folate, a nutrient found in certain foods, and is used in vitamin supplements. Folic acid is an important nutrient that the body uses to generate, replicate and repair cells, including DNA. Deficiencies in folic acid are particularly problematic during pregnancy, when the body must quickly produce lots of new cells.

Red blood cell production is also very sensitive to folic acid levels, and low levels of this nutrient can lead to certain types of anemia. It is believed that folic acid and its derivatives also play an important role in repairing DNA damage that could otherwise lead to cancer.

Can Folic Acid Prevent High Blood Pressure?

Several large studies have examined the role of folic acid in the prevention of high blood pressure and found that it provides benefit in reducing risk of the condition.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that women with hypertension who took folate were able to significantly reduce their blood pressure. By taking more than 1,000 mcg a day of folic acid there was a 46 percent reduction in high blood pressure of women who participated in the study.

Folic Acid Shown to Reduce the Risk of Stroke

According to a study appearing in JAMA in April 2015, folic acid was found to significantly reduce the risk of stroke in people with high blood pressure.

The study included more than 20,000 adults in China with high blood pressure, but without a history of stroke or heart attack. A portion of the participants used enalapril, a hypertension medication, with folic acid, others were treated with enalapril alone.

During a treatment period of 4.5 years, the first stroke occurred in 282 participants (2.7 percent) in the enalapril-folic acid group compared with 355 participants (3.4 percent) in the enalapril group, representing a risk reduction of 0.7 percent and a relative risk reduction of 21 percent.

Should I Take Folic Acid Supplements?

It is worthwhile to consider taking a folic acid supplement (400 to 500 micrograms per day.) As with any supplement, you should ask your doctor before starting. Folate supplements may not be recommended for those with certain conditions.

Because folic acid is water soluble, it is very difficult to consume dangerous amounts. That means that whatever your body doesn't use is filtered by the kidneys and excreted into the urine. Though excess folic acid consumption isn't likely to cause serious harm, it can cause side effects. Too much folic acid can cause headaches, stomach upset, diarrhea, and other discomfort.

Good Dietary Sources of Folic Acid

Many prepared cereals, canned goods, and breads are fortified with the nutrient. Green leafy vegetables and legumes (beans) are the best natural sources of folic acid. Some wise choices:

  • Lentils: 1 Cup, boiled = 386 micrograms
  • Chickpeas: 1 Cup, boiled = 282 micrograms
  • Spinach: 1 Cup, raw = 210 micrograms
  • Cauliflower: 1 Cup = 180 micrograms
  • Lettuce: 1 Cup = 156 micrograms

While folic acid is an important part of a healthy high blood pressure diet, it is only one component. Healthy eating is one of the most important steps towards the prevention of high blood pressure, and overall balance is the key.

Sources:

Eichholzer, M, Tonz, O, Zimmermann, R. Folic acid: A Public Health Challenge. Lancet 2006; 367:1352.

Jacques, PF, Selhub, J, Bostom, AG, et al. The Effect of Folic Acid Fortification on Plasma Folate and Total Homocysteine Concentrations. New England Journal of Medicine 1999; 340:1449.

Bechir, M, et al. Folic Acid Improves Baroreceptor Sensitivity in Hypertension. Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology 2005; 45:44-8.

Forman, JP, Rimm, EB, Stampfer, MJ, Curhan, GC. Folate Intake and the Risk of Incident Hypertension Among US Women. JAMA 2005; 293:320.

United States Department of Agriculture. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. Release 18, 2002-2006.

The JAMA Network, media.jamanetwork.com, Efficacy of Folic Acid Therapy in Primary Prevention of Stroke Among Adults With Hypertension in ChinaThe CSPPT Randomized Clinical Trial.

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