You know you should get all your B vitamins, but do you know what happens if you don’t? Well, skimping on your daily dose of vitamin B could increase your risk of heart disease, stroke and peripheral vascular disease (reduced blood flow to the hands and feet).
Studies have shown that people with low amounts of these vitamins also have a dangerously high amount of an amino acid called homocysteine. Knowing the link between the two could help you reduce your risk of illness.
Like cholesterol, your body needs and makes homocysteine. Although homocysteine is necessary to build and maintain tissue, too much of it traveling through your bloodstream could be dangerous.
Experts believe homocysteine may:
- increase the stickiness of blood platelets, making blood more likely to clot
- make blood vessels less flexible and less able to widen to accommodate blood flow
- cause artery linings to thicken and scar, thereby encouraging fatty deposits and plaque formation
- Blood testing is advised in families with a history of atherosclerosis (narrowing of arteries) at a young age and for people who have cardiovascular disease but don’t have other apparent risk factors. Ask your doctor if you should be tested and about any pretest guidelines, such as fasting.
Usually excess homocysteine is processed by your liver and turned into another amino acid you need. However, this can’t be accomplished without help from the B complex vitamins—B6, B12 and folic acid (folate). Without those vitamins, homocysteine stores itself in your blood.
Fortunately, you can make sure extra homocysteine ends up where it should by eating foods rich in B vitamins. Based on one study of 80,000 women, folic acid and vitamin B6 intake reduced the risk of heart disease by nearly half.
Check the chart below for good sources of B vitamins. Older adults might ask their doctors about vitamin supplements since they often have trouble absorbing B vitamins from food.