The missing link in cardiovascular disease?
Some risk factors for cardiovascular disease are well known, like smoking, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity, and diabetes. But these things only account for about 50% of the disease risk. So where does the other 50% come from?
Some say that high blood levels of the sulfur-containing amino acid homocysteine are at least partially to blame. The body breaks homocysteine down using nutrients such as vitamin B6, folate (dietary folic acid), and vitamin B12, so low intake of any of these nutrients may cause a build-up of homocysteine levels.
Studies have yielded mixed results when it comes to B vitamins’ effects on lowering homocysteine levels and subsequent stroke risk reduction. To look at the issue further, researchers from ZhengZhou University in Henan, China, compiled the results of 14 studies including 54,913 participants who were given B vitamins. One study looked at folic acid alone, while all of the others used a combination of B vitamins. The people’s homocysteine levels were evaluated and the incidence of stroke was recorded.
Homocysteine levels went down among the participants after taking B vitamins in all but one trial.
Lower homocysteine levels were associated with significantly decreased stroke risk.
People who took B vitamins for three or more years, those who hadn’t previously gotten a lot of B vitamins from fortified foods, and those without kidney disease seemed to experience greater stroke protection.
B vitamins appeared to be more beneficial in reducing stroke risk among people whose systolic blood pressure was greater than 130 mmHg and those who weren’t taking blood-thinning medications.
“There is a known synergistic effect of (high blood levels of homocysteine) and blood pressure on vascular events, and (high blood levels of homocysteine) are known to promote hypertension,” explained the study’s authors.
Reduce your risk
There are two major types of stroke: hemorrhagic, where a blood vessel bursts and bleeds into the brain, and ischemic, where a blockage in a blood vessel leaves part of the brain starved for oxygen. Ischemic strokes account for about 85% of all stroke events.
Besides losing weight, exercising, and controlling diabetes and high blood pressure, here are some other options for lowering stroke risk:
- Go green. People who drink green tea or coffee on a regular basis seem to have a lower risk of stroke.
- Eat Mediterranean. Diets high in fish, vegetables, legumes, nuts, olive oil, and fruits, and low in dairy, refined grains, and meat may lower stroke risk.
- Be sweet. Chocolate (even milk chocolate!) may lower stroke risk in men and women, according to some studies.