A group of B vitamins -- folic acid, vitamin B12, and vitamin B6 -- may have a role in heart health. In a complex series of reactions, these vitamins are responsible for regulating the blood levels of an amino acid called homocysteine. An elevated blood level of homocysteine is one of the risk factors for heart disease.
Evidence suggests, although it's not proven, that homocysteine oxidizes LDL, thereby promoting atherosclerosis. Unfortunately, two large clinical trials of men and women with heart disease have not shown any benefit of folate, B12, and B6 supplements in lowering homocysteine, indicating that homocysteine may be a marker of coronary heart disease, not a target of treatment.
Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale, as well as brussell sprouts, asparagus, beans, orange juice, and fortified cereals are good sources of folate. Since 1998, the United States government has required that folic acid be added to refined grain products, such as white bread, pasta, and rice. However, these refined grains should not be substituted for whole grains in the diet.
Vitamin B12 can be found in lean red meat, fish, shellfish, and fortified cereals. Chicken, fish, whole-wheat bread, beans, and fortified cereals contain vitamin B6.
Niacin is another B vitamin. In large doses, nicotinic acid, a form of niacin, lowers total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels and raises HDL levels.
Evidence is also inconclusive on the role that carotenoids, which provide Vitamin A, play in cholesterol. Learn about carotenoids on the next page.