Taking B Vitamins and Heart Disease Risk

June 15, 2006

Taking B Vitamins and Heart Disease Risk 

 Competency # 15 VITAL VITAMINS                                  Reference:  New England Journal of Medicine 354(15):1567-1577 April 13, 2006 

 It doesn’t work!  At least in the short term according to NBC, CNN and ABC news last month.  We all heard it in the news and felt frustration and confusion.  How could it be that we have another negative trial?  What’s the deal with these ideas that seem so promising?  My Aunt takes all three of these vitamins separately because she has read in various health promoting news letters that they improve your risks with heart disease.  

In the New England Journal of Medicine's lead article in April, the HOPE Study (Heart Outcomes Prevention Evaluation) announced that taking folate, B6 and B12 did not reduce the risk of major cardiovascular events.  How disappointing!  But maybe not the final word… 

 Here is my read on it.  The study lasted 5 years.  The age of the volunteers was 55 or older.  They did find 5522 volunteers for 5 years.  That is a huge and very expensive study to conduct.  There are two conclusions I think you can draw.  One, the authors state: perhaps homocysteine is a passive marker of illness, not a cause.  If you do observational studies, you will find it but it is really just an innocent bystander.  Like chasing taillights, you are behind the real culprit.  That's one plausible explanation. 

 Two, what we do know from observational population studies is that the chemical homocysteine in your blood is seemingly bad for you. The higher it is, the more likely you are to have vascular disease.  Populations with low homocysteine levels have lower rates of heart attacks.  We know from this study that taking the vitamins also doubled your blood levels of the vitamins, as you would expect.   And homocysteine levels did go down.  The authors claimed they had enough patients to show a 17-20 % reduction by their statistical evidence.  

It just didn’t happen. My thoughts are as follows.  We do know that autopsies done on 20-year old Americans show fatty streaks at age 20.  We don’t get heart attacks until age 50 or so.  Vascular disease is not something that starts at age 55.  It starts with weaning from baby carrots and milk to Mac Donald’s and Macaroni and Cheese.  A lifelong disease needs lifelong changes.  And one megavitamin at a time can’t reverse those.  We need the whole food with the whole list of vitamins in it, not just the folate or B6, B12.  That way we will reduce our homocysteine the natural way.  Unfortunately, you have to do it every day. 

www. What Will Work for Me!  I’m not deterred.  I take a multivitamin every day.  I eat lots of fruit and vegetables where I get lots of vitamins.  Balanced, sensible nutrition.  It’s the whole package, just not one that contains Mac and Cheese.   What I can't figure out is how the full-fat Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream got into my grocery cart last week.  I clearly need help.

This column is written by Dr. John E. Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI. (262-784-5300)