One risk factor for first-time heart attacks is an elevated blood level of homocysteine. High homocysteine levels can be lowered by administering vitamin B12 and folic acid. The question has been whether or not this treatment would result in reduced disease and death from heart attacks.
Research published this week answered this question. A study was conducted in the United Kingdom on 12,000 heart attack survivors. This was a double-blind randomized controlled trial where the subjects either received a placebo or 2 mg of folic acid and 1 mg of vitamin B12.
The vitamins effectively reduced homocysteine level by an average of 28%. During the 6 years of follow-up, 1220 (20.4%) of the group taking vitamins had a second heart attack, but only 1185 (19.6%) of the group taking a placebo (and living with higher homocysteine levels) had a heart attack.
There were 578 (9.6%) deaths in the vitamin group and 559 (9.3%) in the placebo group. The vitamin group had 678 (11.2%) people with cancers and the placebo group had 639 (10.6%) people develop cancer.
We can conclude with certainty that long-term reductions in homocysteine levels by taking vitamin B12 and folic acid supplements do not lower the risk of second heart attacks, the development of cancer, or prevent death from cardiovascular diseases.
On the other hand, there is abundant evidence that a regular exercise and a diet rich in vegetables, nuts and fruits have beneficial effects on heart disease. In 500 BC, Hippocrates once said, “Let your food be your medicine.”
It seems he was on to something.