A Risk Factor For Heart Attack in Older People

by Brenda Williams

Posted on Thursday 9th of October 2008

People worry about their cholesterol and most of us have this checked as part of an annual physical. This is very wise for middle-aged men and women, as, at that age level, high cholesterol is a high risk factor for heart attack.

However, there is another high risk factor that increases with age and many people are unaware of it. As you get older, the amount of homocysteine in the blood naturally increases. And high levels of homocysteine have been associated with a high risk of both heart attack and stroke. Homocysteine is an amino acid, which can damage arteries if it builds up in the blood.

Medical scientists first made this discovery when they studied people with homocystinuria. Homocystinuria is a rare inherited disease in which the levels of homocysteine in the blood become excessively high. It was observed that people with homocystinuria developed severe heart problems in adolescence and also in childhood.

Further studies of people with premature heart disease and stroke revealed moderately high levels of homocysteine in their blood even though they did not have homocystinuria.

In addition to older people, high levels of homocysteine are also found in smokers, people with hypertension and high cholesterol and people with a sedentary lifestyle.

However, homocysteine levels in the blood can be controlled. Scientists have also discovered that high levels of homocysteine are associated with low intake of folic acid.

A research study of 80,000 nurses conducted over 14 years concluded that individuals with the highest intake of folic acid had a lower risk of heart attack. The results of this study prompted the national movement to add folic acid to bread. This is also why many physicians recommend that older people take a 400 mcg. daily supplement of folic acid.

Liver, citrus fruits (especially orange juice), and dark, leafy green vegetables are rich in folic acid. It is also found in meat, cereal and various flours. However, most people do not consume the quantity needed which is why doctors recommend supplementation.

In addition to folic acid, there are two other B vitamins that help control homocysteine levels – Vitamins B-6 and B-12. Medical researchers have found that older people are very often deficient in both B-6 and B-12. It is very important when supplementing with folic acid, to ensure that one does not have a Vitamin B-12 deficiency. This should be checked with a physician.

B-6 is a water-soluble vitamin, which helps metabolize the amino acids that the body uses to create cells. As people age, they become less efficient in absorbing this vitamin. Women have more problems because they have a lower calorie intake than men. Vitamin B-6 deficiency is also very common in people with high alcohol consumption.

The best food sources of Vitamin B6 are chicken, fish, pork, whole grains, legumes, bananas, raisins, sunflower seeds and leafy green vegetables.

Your body also needs Vitamin B-12 to manufacture red blood cells. However, B-12 is found only in animal products. Vegetarians who avoid animal products are particularly at risk for a vitamin B-12 deficiency. So are older people with stomach disorders.

Medical research has now firmly established that the B vitamins are heart protectors and daily intake reduces the risk of heart disease.

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