How do high-folate diets protect against heart disease?

As we all know, a healthy diet involves greens, beans and fruits. Folate, a B vitamin abundant in each of these food groups, may not be a household name, but a high folate diet is certainly well-known to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Interestingly, scientists have never clearly understood the process by which folate fully benefits us. In a new study published in this month’s issue of the scientific journal Circulation Research, MUHC investigators shed light on the mysterious connection between folate and heart disease.

“We knew that a low folate diet could increase homocysteine-an amino acid-in the blood,” says lead researcher Dr. Rima Rozen, Scientific Director of The Montreal Children’s Hospital of the MUHC. “But there was a missing link between the homocysteine and heart disease and stroke.”

Using mouse models, and later confirming their results in humans, the investigators used genetic analyses to map out the ’rollercoaster of reactions’. “Our study reveals that low folate diets increase homocysteine, which lowers HDL cholesterol-the so called ’good’ cholesterol-which in-turn increases the risk of heart disease and stroke,” says Dr. Rozen.

The benefits of a high folate diet have been perceived for many years; both the US and Canada have regulations requiring the addition of folic acid (the synthetic form of folate) to breads, cereals, flours, corn meals, pastas and rice to increase its intake in the general population. “Now we can finally explain an important pathway that links folate to heart disease and stroke, and we have yet another reason to eat plenty of greens, beans and fruits,” says Dr. Rozen.

The Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI MUHC) is a world-renowned biomedical and health-care hospital research centre. Located in Montreal, Quebec, the institute is the research arm of the MUHC, a university health center affiliated with the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University. The institute supports over 500 researchers, nearly 1000 graduate and post-doctoral students and operates more than 300 laboratories devoted to a broad spectrum of fundamental and clinical research. The Research Institute operates at the forefront of knowledge, innovation and technology and is inextricably linked to the clinical programs of the MUHC, ensuring that patients benefit directly from the latest research-based knowledge.

The McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) is a comprehensive academic health institution with an international reputation for excellence in clinical programs, research and teaching. The MUHC is a merger of five teaching hospitals affiliated with the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University–the Montreal Children’s, Montreal General, Royal Victoria, and Montreal Neurological Hospitals, as well as the Montreal Chest Institute. Building on the tradition of medical leadership of the founding hospitals, the goal of the MUHC is to provide patient care based on the most advanced knowledge in the health care field, and to contribute to the development of new knowledge.

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Ian Popple MUHC

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