The Benefits of Folic Acid

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 1 in 3 American adults have hypertension, or high blood pressure. Many people can unknowningly have the dangerous condition for years, because they may not have any obvious symptoms until they suffer a heart attack or stroke. Be sure to have your blood pressure levels checked regularly. This is critical to your health.

Folic acid is one of the many B vitamins, often referred to as vitamin B-9. It is named after the Latin word for leaf (folium), because it was first found in spinach and other green leafy vegetables. Researchers say folic acid is thought to reduce the risk of high blood pressure by helping blood vessels relax and improve blood flow.

B-9 is Not Benign

Folic acid was first identified in the 1930s as a compound that helped prevent low red blood cell levels, or anemia, during pregnancy. Folic acid can be found in vitamin supplements and fortified foods such as breads and breakfast cereals. The natural form of folic acid provided by food is called folate. It is naturally occurring in leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, and lentils.

It is very important during development, especially in pregnant women, infants and children. It also helps break down homocysteine, a compound found in blood that damages cells lining arteries. When these cells are damaged, the vessel may become less elastic, making high blood pressure more likely. Consuming folate-rich foods or taking folic acid may lessen the risk of damage to these important cells.

The importance of folic acid in preventing birth defects of the brain and spine led the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require that grain-based foods, cereals, and dietary supplements be enriched with folate starting in 1998. These neural tube defects are a type of birth defect in which the brain, spinal cord, or their protective coverings do not fully develop. These defects occur early in fetal development, often starting before the woman even knows she is pregnant. Spina bifida is one of the more common types of neural tube defects

Folic acid is considered a safe and necessary dietary nutrient. Because it is a water-soluble vitamin, most excess folic acid is excreted in the urine. However, if taken in extremely large doses, it may cause symptoms such as upset stomach or trouble sleeping.

While many processed cereals, canned goods, and breads are fortified with the B9, green leafy vegetables and legumes are the best natural sources of folic acid. Some wise choices:

· Lentils: 1 Cup, boiled

· Chickpeas: 1 Cup, boiled

· Spinach: 1 Cup, raw

· Cauliflower: 1 Cup

· Lettuce: 1 Cup

Although folic acid is an important part of a healthy high blood pressure diet, it is only one component. Healthy eating is one of the most important steps towards the prevention of high blood pressure, and overall balance is the key.

Causes of High Blood Pressure

In most cases of high blood pressure, the American Heart Association says there is no one identifiable cause. This kind of high blood pressure is called primary hypertension or essential hypertension. It is usually a combination of factors, such as:

· Weight. The greater your body mass, the more pressure there is on your artery walls. That's because more blood is produced to supply oxygen and nutrients to tissues in your body.

· Activity level. Lack of physical activity tends to increase heart rate, which forces your heart to work harder with each contraction.

· Tobacco use. Chemicals in cigarettes and tobacco can damage artery walls.

· Sodium intake. Excessive sodium in the diet can result in fluid retention and high blood pressure, especially in people sensitive to sodium.

· Potassium intake. Low potassium can result in elevated sodium in cells, because the two balance one another.

· Stress. Stress can raise blood pressure.

· Alcohol consumption. Excessive alcohol intake can, over time, increase the risk of heart disease.

· Age. The risk of high blood pressure increases as you get older.

· Family history. High blood pressure often runs in families.

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