Take it to Heart: Exploring the Role of High-Dose B-Vitamin Therapy in CVD Risk Reduction

By: DSM Pharma Solutions

Cardiovascular disease represents the world’s leading cause of death and disability, placing a significant burden on both family and community. Globally, clinical outcomes vary considerably according to dietary standards, vitamin and mineral fortification and a variety of patient-specific risk factors and comorbidities. Emerging research has highlighted the role of B-vitamin therapy in cardiovascular risk reduction. Read on to learn more. 

Worrying Trends

Over 17 million patients die annually of cardiovascular disease (CVD), representing 31% of all deaths and making CVD the leading cause of global morbidity and mortality by a significant margin.1 Stroke, a component of CVD, is the most common cause of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) lost globally, with overall burden projected to rise from 38 million DALYs in 1990, to 61 million in 2020.2 The preponderance of evidence continues to suggest that CV risk profiles vary considerably across different demographics including, but not limited to, age, sex, race and nationality (e.g. developing versus developed nations), further complicating generalized treatment efforts and necessitating patient-centered treatment approaches.3,4 Clinical outcomes also vary according to patient- and population-specific risk factors and comorbidities such as tobacco use, diet, physical inactivity, family history, hypertension, dyslipidemia, diabetes mellitus, and obesity.5,6

Mechanisms At Play

Cardiovascular disease etiologies remain complex and multifactorial. With respect to mechanisms concerning the B-vitamin complex, it has long been established that folate deficiency leads to increased plasma homocysteine (hyperhomocysteinemia), an independent risk factor for coronary artery disease, stroke, peripheral vascular atherosclerosis, and both arterial and venous thromboembolism.7,8 In fact, epidemiologic studies and clinical trials have consistently demonstrated that a 20% to 25% relative reduction in homocysteine levels is associated with a significant reduction in cardiovascular events.9 Both folate and vitamin B12 are potent regulators of homocysteine metabolism through the modulation of the vitamin B12-dependent enzyme methionine synthase, which – in most tissues and cells – is the major (or only) pathway for the conversion of homocysteine to methionine, a critical component of the folate cycle.10,11

Recent research has also highlighted folate’s role in improving vascular outcomes via increased NOS (nitric oxide synthase) coupling and NO (nitric oxide) bioavailability. In vitro analyses suggest that this mechanism may be independent of – and additive to – folate’s homocysteine-lowering effect, and certainly represents an area of opportunity for further research. The critical role of NO bioavailability in vascular biology is well documented, and endothelial dysfunction – the reduced ability of the endothelium to produce NO – is a hallmark of cardiovascular disease.12

B-Vitamins and Cardiovascular Outcomes

It is vitally important to distinguish between B-vitamin fortification and therapeutic interventions with high-dose therapy. For example, although the general population of North America – where fortification of foods is mandated – on average achieves the RDA (recommended dietary allowance) of 400 mg/d for folate, clinical studies of folate in the restoration of endothelial function suggest that higher doses of folic acid are required to confer benefits on cardiovascular endpoints.Ibid

While evidence for the prophylactic use of B-vitamins for primary or secondary stroke prevention is generally mixed, a recent follow-up analysis of the Vitamin Intervention for Stroke Prevention (VISP) study demonstrated that Vitamin B significantly reduced the recurrence of stroke relative to placebo intervention (OR 0.86; 95% CI: 0.76-0.97). In a Kaplan–Meier survival analysis comparing 4 groups, patients with a baseline B12 level at the median or higher randomized to high-dose therapy (2.5 mg folate, 25 mg B6, and 400 mcg B12 daily) had the best overall outcome, and those with B12 less than the median and assigned to low-dose therapy (20 mcg folate, 200 mcg B6, and 6 mcg B12 daily) had the worst (P=0.02 for combined stroke, death, and coronary events; P=0.03 for stroke and coronary events).13

In the HOPE 2 trial, the benefit of homocysteine-lowering therapy (HLT), comprising a daily combination of 2.5 mg of folate, 50 mg of vitamin B6, and 1 mg of vitamin B12, remained after adjusting for concomitant antithrombotics, lipid-lowering, and antihypertensive treatment at study entry (HR 0.71; 95% CI: 0.56-0.91).14 Moreover, the PACIFIC study – a double-blind, placebo-controlled, factorial randomized trial assessing the effects of two doses of folic acid versus placebo on plasma homocysteine levels – clearly demonstrated the beneficial effects of high-dose folic acid therapy in high-risk patients. In this trial, a 2 mg daily dose of folic acid resulted in a 33% greater effect on homocysteine reduction compared to the 20 mcg dose.15

Finally, although no human trials have specifically conducted dose–response studies of supplemental folic acid and endothelial function, a review of the available literature suggests that – in patients with compromised endothelial function – daily doses 5 mg or greater can effectively restore endothelium-dependent vasodilation and reduce cardiovascular risk in specific patient subgroups.12

What Lies Ahead?

While the current evidence continues to build in favor of high-dose B-vitamin therapy, there are a number of critical future considerations. The current body of literature reinforces the importance of gaining a better understanding of B-vitamin therapy in subgroups who may benefit, while avoiding subgroups who may not.11,12,16 Future clinical trials should focus particular attention on appropriate patient segmentation and study-powering, adjusting for variables such as baseline renal function, age, sex, country-specific dietary standards (e.g. folate fortification), therapeutic dosing/administration, and present comorbidities.

For more information, contact us or read our whitepaper, “Scientific Evidence on Vitamins and Lipids in Pharmaceutical Applications.”

Published on

26 February 2018



8 min read

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[1] Visit World Health Organization: "Cardiovascular Diseases" website to learn more, February 2018.

[2] Visit World Health Organization: "Global Burden of Stroke" website to learn more, February 2018. 

[3] V. Feigin et al. Global Burden of Stroke. Circ Res 2017;120:439-448.

[4] S. Barquera et al. Global Overview of the Epidemiology of Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease. Arch Med Res 2015;46:328-338.

[5] American Stroke Association. Stroke Risks, February 2018. 

[6] American Heart Association. Coronary Artery Disease, February 2018. 

[7] N. Jadavji et al. B-Vitamin and Choline Supplementation Increases Neuroplasticity and Recovery After Stroke. Neurobiol Dis 2017;103:89-100.

[8] C. Sanchez-Moreno et al. Stroke: Role of B Vitamins, Homocysteine and Antioxidants. Nutr Nes Rev 2009;22:49-67.

[9] X. Wang et al. Efficacy of Folic Acid Supplementation in Stroke Prevention: A Meta-Analysis. Lancet 2007;369:1876-1882.

[10] J. Strain et al. B-Vitamins, Homocysteine Metabolism and CVD. Proc Nutr Soc 2004;63:597-603.

[11] G. Saposnik et al. The Role of Vitamin B in Stroke Prevention: A Journey From Observational Studies to Clinical Trials and Critique of the VITAmins TO Prevent Stroke (VITATOPS). Stroke 2011;42:838-842.

[12] A. Stanhewicz et al. Role of Folic Acid in Nitric Oxide Bioavailability and Vascular Endothelial Function. Nutr Rev 2016;75:61-70.

[13] J. Spence et al. Vitamin Intervention for Stroke Prevention Trial: An Efficacy Analysis. Stroke 2005;36:2404-2409.

[14] G. Saposnik et al. Homocysteine-Lowering Therapy and Stroke Risk, Severity, and Disability. Additional Finding From the HOPE 2 Trial. Stroke 2009;40:1365-1372.

[15] B. Neal et al. Dose-Dependent Effects of Folic Acid on Plasma Homocysteine in a Randomized Trial Conducted Among 723 Individuals with Coronary Heart Disease. Eur Heart J 2002;19:1509-15.

[16] G. Hankey et al. B vitamins in patients with recent transient ischaemic attack or stroke in the VITAmins TO Prevent Stroke (VITATOPS) trial: a randomised, double-blind, parallel, placebo-controlled trial. Lancet Neurol 2010;9:855-65.

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