"In healthy overweight subjects a short-term folic acid supplementation reduces the circulating level of some inflammatory mediators… thus suggesting a potential therapeutic role for folic acid in the protection from atherogenesis and cardiovascular diseases," wrote the researchers in the International Journal of Obesity (Vol. 30, pp. 1197-1202).
Chronic inflammation, brought about by an over-expression or lack of control of the normal protective mechanism, can lead to a range of inflammatory related disease, particularly cardiovascular disease.
And since people who are overweight or obese are said to be in a state of increased inflammation, compared to non-overweight and non-obese people, reducing inflammation could benefit the ever growing number of people with 'weight issues'.
The researchers, from University of Pisa School of Medicine, recruited 60 healthly but overweight (BMI between 25 and 29 kg per sq.m) for the 12-week unmasked randomized placebo-controlled trial.
Blood samples were taken at the start and end of the study to measure for levels of homocysteine and specific inflammatory molecules, including monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1), interleukin-8 (IL-8) and C-reactive protein (CRP), all of which are associated with a state of increased inflammation.
Subjects were randomly assigned to receive either a folic acid supplement ()2.5 mg per day) or placebo .
In agreement with a number of other studies, volunteers receiving the folic acid supplements had decreased levels of homocysteine (12 per cent), an amino acid that, by itself, has been linked by epidemiological studies to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
For the inflammatory molecules, the researchers reported that, compared to baseline, the volunteers taking the folic acid supplement had significant drops in the circulating concentration of all three molecules: MCP-1, 15 per cent; IL-8, 17 per cent;CRP, 6 per cent.
No signficant changes were observed in either BMI or fat mass of the subjects.
These results show, concluded the researchers, that folic acid supplementation, albeit for a short-term, could offer protection from cardiovascular disease, which causes almost 50 per cent of deaths in Europe, and is reported to cost the EU economy an estimated €169bn ($202bn) per year. According to the American Heart Association, 34.2 per cent of Americans (70.1m people) suffered from some form of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in 2002.
"The folic acid supplementation regimen we adopted was relatively short-term (3 months) and relatively low-dose (2.5 mg per day); yet, it was able to induce a significant reduction in homocysteine levels," said the researchers.
Longer term studies are needed to confirm if such effects are beneficial long-term, and also whether such benefits would be seen in obese people (BMI greater or equal to 30 kg per sq. m).
Over 300m adults are obese worldwide, according to latest statistics from the WHO and the International Obesity Task Force. About one-quarter of the US adult population is said to be obese, with rates in Western Europe on the rise although not yet at similar levels.