New studies on the health benefits of folic acid, vitamin D and vitamin E.
Taking a folic acid supplement every day—or eating plenty of broccoli or oranges —can dramatically reduce the risk of death from heart disease, according to a fifteen-year study by the Cancer Bureau of Health Canada.
The study, recently reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, included 5,056 men and women, aged thirty-five to seventy-nine, with no history of heart disease. Participants with the lowest folate levels in their blood, who consumed well below the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance of 0.4 milligrams of folic acid, had 69 percent more deaths from heart disease than those who consumed 1 mg or more per day.
Clinical studies have shown that elevated blood levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that promotes narrowing of the arteries, are related to low levels of folate and vitamin B12. Homocysteine is “unequivocally linked with vascular disease,” according to an article in the British Medical Journal, and “can be reduced simply and cheaply with folic acid.” (1)
Consuming nearly twice the recommended 200 daily units of vitamin D can reduce the effects of osteoarthritis of the knee by as much as a third, according to an eight-year study of 556 elderly patients by Boston University Medical Center.
Osteoarthritis is characterized by loss of cartilage in the joint, leading to painful friction as bone rubs against bone.
The study concluded that the vitamin may protect the cartilage from deteriorating. (2)
Several 1996 studies have shown that vitamin E may help prevent heart disease.
One eighteen-month, double-blind, placebo-controlled random study involved 2,002 patients with heart disease. A total of 1,035 patients were given either 400 or 800 IU of vitamin E daily, and 967 patients received a placebo. Subjects who took vitamin E had a fourth as many new heart attacks as those who didn’t. This study, and most of the others, used vitamin E in supplement form and in amounts unattainable from diet alone (the RDA for vitamin E is 30 IU). Good dietary sources include vegetable oils, nuts, whole grains, and dark green leafy vegetables.(3)
The Office of Dietary Supplements, a division of the National Institutes of Health, has announced grants totaling $270,000 to be given to U.S. medical institutions for research projects exploring the health benefits of dietary supplements in the prevention and treatment of disease. The institutions and their projects are:
• Brown University. The relationship between low levels of tryptophan, an amino acid essential for infant growth and adult nitrogen balance (rate of protein synthesis to protein breakdown), and alcohol abuse among Native Americans.
• University of Memphis. The relationship between low calcium levels and bone loss in those who exercise heavily.
• University of Alabama at Birmingham. The relationship between the use of methotrexate (a folate antagonist used to treat rheumatoid arthritis) and dietary folate.
•Albert Einstein College of Medicine. The toxicity and safety of vanadium, a rare metallic element that is used to treat hyperglycemia (excess sugar in the blood).
• Vanderbilt University. The effects of thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency on brain function.
(1) Morrison, H., et al. “Serum folate and risk of fatal coronary heart disease”. Journal of the American Medical Association 1996, 275: 1893–1896.
(2) McAlidon, T., et al. “Relation of dietary intake and serum levels of vitamin D to progression of osteoarthritis of the knee”. Annals of Internal Medicine 1996, 125(5):353– 359.
(3) Stephens, N., et al. “Randomised controlled trial of vitamin E in patients with coronary disease: Cambridge Heart Antioxidant Study”, Lancet, 1996, 347(9004):781-6.
(4) Clark, L., et al. “Effects of selenium supplementation for cancer prevention in patients with carcinoma of the skin”. Journal of the American Medical Association 1996, 276(24): 1957–1963.
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