Even though folic acid decreases levels of homocysteine, a protein linked to heart disease, supplements containing the B vitamin don’t cut incidence of heart attack, stroke, cancer or death, found a new meta-analysis published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Oxford University researchers evaluated data from 37,485 participants from eight different trials to determine that even regular, high doses of folic acid had no effect on cardiovascular events—in fact, those who supplemented with folic acid over a five-year period were just as likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke as people who took a placebo, despite a 25 percent dip in homocysteine levels.
The study authors noted that while the lack of heart benefits was disappointing, the findings revealed no adverse effects of taking folic acid, which one-third of Americans do as either a supplement or part of a multivitamin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And even though cell-regenerating folic acid may not offer cardiovascular perks, ample research upholds its importance for women, especially those who are pregnant or trying to conceive. The synthetic form of folate helps prevent major birth defects like spina bifida and anencephaly. Since many women don’t get enough folic acid from diet alone, the CDC recommends supplementing with 400 mcg daily, beginning at least 30 days before getting pregnant.