Elderly people should increase their intake of folic acid to help combat cardiovascular disease, according to a new study in the UK.
The study, funded by the Wellcome Trust, said that elderly people should lift their folic acid intake by nearly three times the recommended level - roughly equivalent to 10 to 15 portions of fruit and vegetables per day - to minimise risk from stroke, thrombosis and heart disease.
Folate, which is found in high levels in foods such as bread, biscuits and breakfast cereals, helps reduce the level of an amino acid which can precipitate vascular disease, according to the study. However, the study's authors urged caution, as too much folate can be harmful to some people.
In the three-year study led by Professor Michael Golden, more than 300 men and women aged 65 to 74 in Aberdeen, Scotland, were given folic tablets of varying strength. The researchers found that only those who took the highest levels of folate - between 400 and 600 micrograms - showed a recorded drop in their homocysteine levels.
"This could have major implications because it is the elderly who bear the brunt of cardiovascular problems," said Professor Golden. "If public health policy decisions safely raise the folate intake substantially, these results suggest we could save a lot of lives, improve the health and quality of life of many people and save the health service and awful lot of money."
However, Professor Golden warned that too much folate could cause people with a vitamin B12 deficiency to develop irreversible nerve damage. No screening yet exists to predict who would be at risk of the vitamin deficiency, the study's author added.