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Health News

Women's Folic Acid Levels Increasing

      Although it once was considered controversial, fortifying flour, cereal, bread, and other enriched grain foods with the B vitamin folic acid seems to be paying off: Blood levels of folic acid in women of childbearing age have tripled since fortification began in 1992, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

      That''s good news because folic acid reduces the risk of neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly (babies born with most of the brain missing).

      And the CDC has found that this improvement in folic-acid status is seen not just in the blood but also in red blood cells, which are a better gauge of folic-acid levels in the body.

      The rise in folic-acid levels can''t simply be chalked up to taking supplements either, since folic-acid status improved across the board in women of childbearing age including those who had not taken supplements, according to the CDC.

      "We are delighted that so many women''s folic-acid levels are even greater than we would have predicted beforehand," says CDC Deputy Director David Fleming.

      While the CDC did not release results of folic-acid levels in men, children, or older women, Fleming said increases should be seen across the entire population.

      If so, that could provide another unexpected health benefit. Recent research continues to link folic acid to decreased risk of heart disease and stroke because it helps to convert a dangerous chemical homocysteine to a benign substance called methionine.

      A team of researchers from Kurume University in Japan reported at a recent American Heart Association meeting in Washington that folic acid can even reduce homocysteine levels among healthy, 20- year-old smokers.

      More impressively, folic acid helped repair damage to artery walls that helps set the stage for atherosclerosis.

      In the study, Hidehiro Matsuoka and his colleagues gave megadoses of folic acid up to 20 milligrams per day to study participants for one week. Matsuoka said preliminary results from ongoing research suggest that small daily doses given over months or even years could have similar effects.

      Are supplements necessary to boost folic acid? No, according to both the CDC''s latest research and the recent Japanese study.

      "It may be better to take folic acid in the food, by eating fruits and vegetables, not just by taking a supplement," Matsuoka says.

     

(C) 2000 The Record, Northern New Jersey via Bell&Howell Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved.




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