Can taking vitamin B supplements decrease your risk of stroke? Or, as some studies suggest, can it actually increase it? Researchers in China, led by Dr. Yuming Xu of Zhengzhou University, have weighed in on the vitamin B debate with new research being published today in the journal Neurology.
Xu and his fellow researchers analyzed data from 14 different clinical trials in which some of the 54,913 participants were given B vitamin supplements while others were given placebos or low-doses of the same vitamins. The result, according to the team’s analysis, is that taking B vitamin supplements reduced the incidence of stroke by seven percent. However, the supplements didn’t appear to have any impact on the severity of strokes.
There were other caveats as well. In most of the studies, participants were given a combination of vitamins B9 (folic acid), B6, and B12. Yu’s team’s meta-analysis showed that folic acid supplements actually reduced the positive effect of the other B vitamins. Likewise, the team did not find a reduction of stroke risk when they isolated the results for B12 alone.
“Of the individual reviewed trials, although the majority suggested benefit, almost none showed a statistically significant effect,” says Dr. Larry Goldstein, Director of the Stroke Center at Duke University Medical School. So while B vitamins can play an important role in stroke prevention, it’s still unclear exactly how or why.
All of the B vitamins play in an important role in a healthy diet, and an essential role in helping to convert carbohydrates into glucose. This fuel is then used to power bodies throughout the day.
According to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, folic acid plays an essential role in producing DNA, and also enabling human cells to divide. B6 enables the manufacture of antibodies to fight disease, regulates blood sugar levels, and breaks down proteins, among other things. B12, the supplement used in all but one of the 14 studies analyzed by Yu’s team, is also an essential component for making DNA and keeping blood cells healthy, according to the NIH.
So, are dietary supplements the way to keep your body protected with the right amount of B vitamins? “This report will undoubtedly generate discussion, but implications for individuals is less clear,” argues Duke’s Dr. Goldstein. “The doses of B-vitamins given in combination [in these studies] is much higher than in usual supplements and generally requires a prescription.”
Folic Acid, B6, and B12 are all water-soluble vitamins, and any excess amounts leave your body in urine. Most daily supplements have B vitamins as part of their mix, but they are also readily available in common food. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that adults get six micrograms of B12 on a daily basis. Foods high in B12 include:
The FDA recommends 2 milligrams a day of B6, and foods with high levels of the vitamin include:
The FDA recommends 400 micrograms a day of folic acid (B9), and foods with high levels of the vitamin include:
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