Folic Acid, also known as folate, can decrease the risk for heart disease in postmenopausal women by reducing the harmful effects of homocysteine accumulation.
B vitamins, particularly folate, have been found to lower the levels of an amino acid that is known to be linked to heart disease and stroke risk. This acid, homocysteine, is an animal protein metabolite that can contribute to the formation of arterial wall plaques and blood clots.
The Link Between Menopause and Heart Disease
Everyone experiences an increased risk for heart disease as they get older, but it can be more prevalent in women after menopause has begun. It’s not that menopause is necessarily responsible for heart disease. Unhealthy habits, such as smoking and consuming a high-fat diet, take time for their effects to be felt. For the most part, this time frame just happens to coincide with the age at which most women experience the onset of menopause.
However, there is some research that suggests that the natural decline in estrogen following menopause might play a role in the development of heart disease. One non-reproductive benefit of estrogen is that it helps keep blood vessel walls flexible. This allows them to accommodate increases and decreases in blood flow volume and pressure more easily. When these vessels become more rigid, they are more susceptible to the damaging effects of plaques and clots. Women also experience increased blood pressure, decreased good cholesterol and increased bad cholesterol with menopause.
It’s important to remember that menopause is not a disease but, rather, a natural stage in a woman’s life. Approximately 10 years after a woman reaches this stage, she reaches an age at which women statistically experience an increase in the risk of heart disease. So, there are both direct and indirect links between menopause and the onset of this risk increase in women.
Factors That Affect Homocysteine Levels in the Blood
Homocysteine blood levels are usually highest in those who consume substantial amounts of animal protein and lesser amounts of leafy vegetables and fruits. Not coincidentally, these foods provide B vitamins, including folate, which helps to eliminate homocysteine from the blood. Folate supplements can make up for a diet that is lacking in fruits and leafy vegetables.
Another amino acid, called methionine, is vital to cellular reactions because it is a methyl donor. Methylation of DNA, which involves the addition of a methyl group, is how the body regulates cell function. After donating the methyl group, methionine is transformed into homocysteine. It requires the addition of a methyl group to transform back into methionine. This is where folate comes in. It allows the body to maintain an elevated level of methionine, which is beneficial, and a decreased level of homocysteine, which can be harmful.
How Does Folic Acid Reduce Heart Disease Risk?
Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin that can be found in fruits and vegetables. It is absorbed through the intestines into the blood, where it can be transported throughout the body. Methionine synthase is a molecule that is vital to the process of regenerating methionine from homocysteine. This molecule requires folate to function properly.
Numerous research studies have linked increased homocysteine levels and heart disease. This suggests that increasing folate intake should be a safe way to reduce that risk. Because it is a water-soluble vitamin, any excess consumed are usually flushed out of the body in the urine. However, some vitamins can cause damage before the body is able to flush them out, so it’s best to follow FDA standards for vitamin dosages.
The Recommended Therapeutic Dose
For years the FDA has recommended a dose of 400 micrograms of folic acid per day for women who are of childbearing age. This is due to the established link to certain birth defects. With this new evidence, it has become evident that this dosage should continue post menopause as well.
Research has shown that, by consuming the recommended dose of folate every day, post-menopausal women can decrease their risk of heart disease by 20 percent. This is proving to be a simple and safe way for post-menopausal women to prevent heart disease.