Folic-acid supplements slash high blood pressure sufferers’ risk of suffering a stroke by almost 75 per cent, new research suggests.
Previous research suggests folic acid, or vitamin B9, reduces levels of the amino acid homocysteine, which has been linked to strokes, circulating in the blood.
The current study’s authors believe folic acid, which pregnant women are advised to take to prevent spina bifida, may be a simple, safe and inexpensive way to combat stroke, which occurs when the blood supply to the brain is cut off.
One person suffers a stroke around every five minutes in the UK, with more than 100,000 incidences a year.
Folic-acid slashes high blood pressure sufferers’ risk of suffering a stroke by 73 per cent (stock)
ARE HEALTHY DIETS OR MEDICATION MORE EFFECTIVE AT LOWERING BLOOD PRESSURE?
Low-salt diets packed with fruit and vegetables lower blood pressure more than medication after just four weeks, a Harvard University study suggested in November 2017.
Cutting out salt and eating lots of fruit, vegetables and low-fat dairy, reduces people with high blood pressure’s results by an average of 21 mm Hg, the research adds.
To put that into context, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the US’ drug-approving body, will not accept anti-hypertension medications unless they lower blood pressure by at least 3-4 mm Hg.
Most medications typically reduce hypertension readings by between 10 and 15 mm Hg, but come with side effects including fatigue, dizziness and headache.
Study author Dr Lawrence Appel said: ‘What we’re observing from the combined dietary intervention is a reduction in systolic blood pressure as high as, if not greater than, that achieved with prescription drugs.
‘It’s an important message to patients that they can get a lot of mileage out of adhering to a healthy and low-sodium diet.’
Around 32 percent of adults in the US, and one in four in the UK, have high blood pressure, which puts them at risk of heart disease and stroke.
The researchers analyzed 412 people with early-stage hypertension who were not taking high blood pressure medication.
Some of the study’s participants were fed a ‘DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet’, which includes lots of fruit, vegetables and low-fat dairy products, with minimal saturated fat.
The remaining participants ate a typical American diet.
All of the participants were fed different sodium levels equaling around 0.5, one or two teaspoons of salt a day over four weeks with five-day breaks in between.
Folic acid reduces stroke risk from 5.6% to 1.8%
Out of the study’s over 10,000 people, results suggest that over four years, 210 people taking just the high blood pressure drug enalapril suffered a stroke compared to 161 also receiving folic acid.
This demonstrates folic acid may lower a person with high blood pressure’s risk of the condition from 5.6 per cent to 1.8 per cent.
The findings are only true among participants with high homocysteine levels and low platelet counts.
Platelets are blood cells involved in clotting, with low levels increasing the risk of uncontrolled bleeding and therefore stroke.
The findings were published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology.
‘Folic acid – a simple, safe and inexpensive treatment’
Study author Dr Yong Huo said: ‘If the findings are further confirmed, we can raise the prospect that we can identify patients at high risk of developing first stroke by measuring both platelet and homocysteine, and we can remarkably lower stroke risk among this subgroup of patients with folic acid – a simple, safe and inexpensive treatment.
‘These results have enormous public health implications given the high incident rate of stroke in many developing countries.
‘Based on our findings, we can detect hypertensive adults at particular high risk of stroke and incorporate a folic-acid supplement tailored to individual genetic, nutritional and clinical characteristics.
‘We are on the right path to figuring out cost-effective primary prevention strategies for stroke in China and beyond.’
Dr David Spence, director of the Stroke Prevention and Atherosclerosis Research Centre at Robarts Research Institute, Ontario, who reviewed the findings for the journal, added: ‘The widespread belief that B vitamins do not reduce the risk of stroke is mistaken.’
How the research was carried out
The researchers analysed 10,789 adults aged between 45 and 75 with high blood pressure.
Around half of the participants were given a daily dose of 10mg of enalapril alongside 0.8mg of folic acid.
The remainder were just given enalapril.
They were followed for just over four years on average.
Herbal supplement can boost memory, strength and speech in stroke survivors
This comes after research released last December suggested an over-the-counter supplement found on the High Street boosts memory, muscle strength and speech in stroke survivors.
The herbal supplement ginkgo biloba, which is thought to relieve depression and headaches, prevents cell death in the brain by improving its blood flow, previous studies suggest.
When taken with aspirin, which prevents further clots by thinning the blood, ginkgo biloba also improves stroke sufferers’ attention, reflexes and language skills in as little as 12 weeks, the new research adds.
Study author Dr Yun Xu from Nanjing University, China, said: ‘In the UK, Europe, Canada and the USA, Ginkgo biloba extract is a commercially available food supplement available without prescription.
‘The study demonstrated patients with stroke who received ginkgo biloba extract manifested better memory function, executive functions, neurological function and daily life.’