An article published early online on March 24, 2008 in the journal Circulation reported the discovery by an international team of heart experts that giving a high dose of the B vitamin folic acid to rats provided a significant amount of protection against the damaging effects of myocardial infarction (heart attack).
Johns Hopkins University cardiology research fellow An Moens, MD and colleagues pretreated rats with 10 milligrams folic acid per day or a placebo for one week prior to inducing myocardial infarction by coronary artery occlusion. After 30 minutes of ischemia, blood flow was restored. Rats treated with folic acid were found to have less myocardial dysfunction during ischemia and lower levels of damaging superoxide than those that received the placebo. While the amount of blood pumped by the hearts of the rats that received the placebo, measured as ejection fraction, dropped to 27 percent during the simulated heart attacks, it remained close to normal for those that received folic acid, at an average 73 percent. The treated animals also had smaller areas of tissue death (infarcts), which averaged less than 10 percent of the size of those observed in the control group. In a separate experiment, intravenous injection of folic acid within the first ten minutes of induced heart attack was found to be nearly as effective as pretreatment with the vitamin.
Folate is involved in maintaining normal mitochondrial function, which is needed for healthy blood vessels. Dr Moens explained that the current study’s numerous findings suggest that folate acts as a cardiac energy reserve, “providing much needed energy for muscle contraction, in the form of ATP, at the same time the heart is being starved for oxygen-carrying blood by a blocked artery.”
“In future, we might just pop in an I.V., and give people high-dose folate while they are waiting for their catheterization or CT scans to search for blockages,” he said.
“We want to emphasize that it is premature for people to begin taking high doses of folic acid,” said senior study investigator David Kass, MD of Johns Hopkins. “But if human studies prove equally effective, then high-dose folate could be given to high-risk groups to guard against possible heart attack or to people while they are having one.”
“Folic acid is already well known to be safe to consume in high doses in the short term, and it is very inexpensive, costing pennies per milligram, so its prospects look promising,” he concluded.