The truth is that all three are needed to control the breakdown and subsequent removal of homocysteine from the blood. A shortage of any of these will lead to raised homocysteine. The fact is very few of us don’t eat enough B6 and B12, although as far as B12 is concerned, if there is a problem, it’s more likely to be absorption than intake. Very strict vegans may not get enough if they don’t eat foods fortified with B12 or take supplements.
With folic acid it’s not so simple. Folic acid is the name given to the synthetic version of the vitamin folate. Folate is found in dark green vegetables such as spinach, Brussels sprouts and in wholegrain foods such as wholemeal bread.
The trouble is, even if you are eating these kinds of foods regularly the body finds it quite hard to absorb the folate. It’s thought that around half the folate eaten doesn’t make it into the bloodstream. Professor John Scott and his research group are based at Trinity College, Dublin. They are leading lights in the field of folic acid and homocysteine research and have shown, in a study carried out in 1996, just how hard it is for folate in foods to raise blood folate levels.
They divided a group of sixty-two women into five smaller groups.
- Group 1 had to try to eat 400 micrograms of folate-rich foods such as Brussels sprouts and spinach a day.
- Group 2 were given foods fortified with the synthetic version of folate (in other words, foods fortified with folic acid, such as breakfast cereals). Again, 400 micrograms a day was the target.
- Group 3 took a 400 micrograms folic acid supplement daily.
- Group 4 were given advice on how to increase their intake of folate-rich foods to supply 400 micrograms a day.
- Group 5 were given no special foods and no advice -they were the control group against which the others were to be measured.
Their results revealed that levels of folate in the blood only increased significantly in the women who ate foods fortified with folic acid and those taking the folic acid supplements. This suggested that you could tell people until you were blue in the face how to up their folate naturally and even make them eat lots of folate-rich foods, but this would make very little difference to their overall blood-folate levels or body stores of folate. Get them to eat folic acid-enriched foods or pop a supplement on the other hand, and Bob’s your uncle: up go the blood levels of folate and, hopefully, if you suffer with raised homocysteine levels, down they come.