High cholesterol is a big health concern, and it is estimated that over half of the population suffers from it. High levels of cholesterol (specifically LDL) have been associated with major health problems such as heart disease. Over the years, different prescription drugs have been developed to reduce levels of cholesterol, and yet heart disease is still the leading cause of death in this country.
With more people seeking natural alternatives for different health conditions, more research has been done to find ways to combat cholesterol that are not accompanied by dangerous side effects. Preliminary results have shown some possibility that certain B vitamins may be helpful in reducing cholesterol levels. These include Folic acid (B9), B6, and B12.
1. How It Works
The hypothesis is that B vitamins may help to reduce cholesterol levels because of their effect on homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is an amino acid, also known as a protein breakdown product, which can contribute to clogging of the arteries. Multiple studies have linked high homocysteine levels with an increased risk of stroke and heart disease.
Certain vitamins may help to lower this risk. Folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 are key players in breaking homocysteine down into methionone, which is necessary to help the body build up new proteins. When these vitamins are lacking, the conversion process slows down or stalls, which increases the levels of homocysteine in the blood. While more tests need to be done, there is no harm for people with high cholesterol to take these vitamins in the event that they are beneficial.
2. Food Sources of Folic Acid, Vitamin B6, and B12
Folic acid can be obtained in a number of ways. The food source is actually called folate, and there are many easy ways to get it from your diet. Rich sources include spinach, asparagus, dark leafy greens, beets, brussel sprouts, soybeans, root vegetables, wheat germ, bulgur wheat, white beans, kidney beans, salmon, avocado, orange juice, and milk. All cereal and grain products made in the United States are also fortified with folic acid.
Vitamin B6 is also pretty easy to get through diet. Foods that contain B6 include bananas, avocados, dried beans, nuts, meat, poultry, and whole grains. Sources of B12 include clams, mussels, oysters, beef liver, chicken pate, foie gras, tuna, smoked salmon, herring, crustaceans, tofu, red meat, milk, Swiss cheese, and eggs.
3. Supplementation of B Vitamins is Readily Available
The majority of people are able to get the proper amount of folic acid and other B vitamins from the food they eat. Pregnant women and individuals with certain health issues usually need to also take supplements in order to reach the recommended amount. Folic acid should be taken with other B vitamins because they are required for folic acid to work. That is why many supplements contain a combination of B vitamins, although you can find them separately as well. Supplements can be found in soft gel, tablet, and lozenge from.
4. Recommended Doses can Vary
The Institute of Medicine has laid out recommendations for B vitamins in order to make sure people are getting the proper amount for correct body function. The recommended intake of B6 is between 1.3 and 1.7 milligrams on a daily basis, depending on gender and age. The recommended dose for B12 is 2.4 micrograms and there is no upper limit.
The recommendations for folic acid vary a little more. The minimum intake should be 400 micrograms per day. Individuals who drink alcohol on a regular basis should get at least 600 micrograms, and the upper limit for adults is 1,000 micrograms.
5. Side Effects are Rare
B vitamins are water soluble, which means that excess amounts are excreted through the urine which also means that side effects are rare, especially compared to pharmaceutical drugs. However, there is some possibility of negative consequences when taken in large doses for a long period of time.
High folic acid doses may lead to diarrhea, nausea, abdominal cramps, sleep disorders, and irritability. High doses of vitamin B6 when taken over the long term may cause certain nerve and brain problems, although this is rare. Certain conditions may affect your body’s response to these vitamins, so it is always a good idea to speak with your health care provider if you are considering taking any of them in large doses.
6. Supplementation Is Only One Part of the Puzzle
While supplementing your diet with folic acid, B6, and B12 may help reduce cholesterol in certain cases, it needs to be done in conjunction with other things. Many issues with cholesterol and heart disease are related to lifestyle, so changing this should be the number one priority.
Nutrition is a big factor in relation to cholesterol. Total fat calories should be limited to 25 to 35 percent of your daily calories. Eating a diet high in fiber is important as well, as fiber helps to move cholesterol through and prevent it from clinging to artery walls. Adults should aim to get 25 to 35 grams of fiber daily.
Some of the best sources of fiber are fruits and vegetables, and these should be at the heart of your diet for other health reasons as well. Dark, leafy greens and lower-sugar fruit are important, but you should try to get a variety of 7 to 10 in your daily diet.
Daily exercise is just as important as what you eat. Strive to get at least 20 to 30 minutes of brisk activity in your day. Walking, swimming, running, and biking are all good choices, although anything that gets your heart rate up and you enjoy is good.