(NaturalNews) A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association [JAMA 2008;299(17):2027-36] has revealed that supplementation with the B vitamins, folic acid, B6 and B12, did not prevent cardiovascular disease (CVD) in women at risk.
Despite lowering homocysteine levels by 18%, this large-scale, placebo-controlled, randomized trial found no significant effects from high levels of three B vitamins on CVD events over seven years. Women in the treatment group received daily supplements containing folic acid (2.5 mg), vitamin B6 (50 mg), and vitamin B12 (1 mg), which exceeded the recommended daily allowance for these nutrients. The results go against observational studies linking increased levels of the amino acid homocysteine to an increased risk of CVD.
While it is possible that the treatment truly had no effect on vascular risk, there are several questions left unanswered from this study. For one, there are other vitamins and minerals that affect homocysteine levels, including choline and magnesium. Choline has been shown to reduce inflammation by 20 per cent. Magnesium may be the most deficient mineral in the American diet. It has also been shown to reduce blood pressure, strokes, and improve blood sugar and insulin health. Unfortunately, even most supplements containing magnesium do not help, since they utilize cheap ingredients, such as magnesium oxide. Alternatively, organic, chelated forms of magnesium, such as magnesium citrate, malate or taurate, can make a major impact on heart health.
Perhaps it is not possible to correct a lifetime of poor nutrition with just a smattering of nutrients. Heart disease results from oxidative processes that accrue over many decades. Homocysteine is a pro-oxidant derived from incomplete protein metabolism. However, it is only one of many problems. More detrimental to heart health is faulty carbohydrate metabolism, due to a lifetime of consuming refined foods. This also produces a pro-oxidant condition that damages blood vessels. It also oxidizes cholesterol, the substance used to help plug the cracks in blood vessels caused by free radicals. Correcting faulty carbohydrate metabolism starts with a good diet that restricts carbohydrate consumption, and limits it to whole grains, beans and non-starchy fruits and veggies. A poor diet must be supported by supplementation with minerals, such as chelated magnesium, chromium picolinate, zinc and a high-quality multivitamin. Inflammation in blood vessels is also reduced significantly by omega-3 fatty acids from fish, flax, walnuts and hemp. Everyone should be taking a pharmaceutical-grade, fish oil supplement.
Antioxidants are also vital to the equation. A diet high in fruits and vegetables provides an assortment of antioxidants that, when taken with a pro-oxidative meal, can reduce the free radical damage caused by these foods. There are also a variety of antioxidant supplements and exotic juices (e.g., pomegranate) that have been shown to protect against oxidation. Vitamin C works synergistically with vitamin E and alpha-lipoic acid to protect blood vessel membranes and improve circulation. Vitamin E prevents oxidation of fat, including cholesterol. These fruits and veggies also provide fiber, which reduces the negative impact of refined foods.
Another missing ingredient is vitamin D, which improves the ability of the heart muscle to contract, helps prevent and reverse inflammation in blood vessels, and helps to maintain proper blood pressure. People with the lowest vitamin D blood levels had twice the risk for heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and other types of heart disease over a five-year period than those with the highest blood levels. Many Americans do not get enough of this important vitamin. In a recent study, 34 percent of white people, 40 percent of Latinos, and 84 percent of African-Americans over the age of 50 were vitamin D deficient.
Participants in the JAMA study were all mature women with significant problems such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes and smoking. They are not likely to respond readily to a few vitamins at this stage, but possibly to a comprehensive regimen of high quality nutrients. Even the forms of the B vitamins taken may be called into question, since not all folate, B6 and B12 supplements are alike; some are more bioavailable and useful than others. Furthermore, these women may already be receiving enough folate from fortified foods, leaving no difference between treatment and placebo groups. At this stage in the game, these women are more likely to respond to conditionally-essential nutrients like Co-Q10, acetyl-L-carnitine and alpha lipoic acid, which improve mitochondrial function. A combination of these ingredients can be found in Jarrow Formula’s MityQondria product (www.Jarrow.com) . While they cannot replace the foundational nutrients, these remedies can profoundly improve heart health and boost energy, especially in the short term, without side effects.
Vitamins and minerals are best used to prevent disease. They should be plentiful in food and supplements to support health throughout life, and not as stop gap measures to correct a life defined by poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle. Sound nutritional treatment for aging people with CVD must be comprehensive, and address all the defects in oxidative metabolism. It must also utilize the highest quality supplements available, and not synthetic or poorly absorbed vitamins and minerals that do not help the body function efficiently. The JAMA study merely tells us that sound nutrition is not simple.
About the author
Dr. Phil Domenico is a nutritional scientist and educator with a research background in biochemistry and microbiology. Formerly an infectious disease scientist, he now works as a consultant for supplement companies and the food industry.