Health Team

Doctors Hoped Folic Acid Could Help Kidney Patients

Study looked at trying to prevent diabetes and other complications by using folic acid and B vitamins.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Approximately 8 million Americans suffer from kidney disease, and they are at high risk for other diseases like heart attack and stroke.

Researchers hoped that certain diet supplements would help prevent heart problems, but the benefits did not pan out, showing why medicine offers hope, but is cautious about promises.

“Patients with advanced, chronic kidney disease have a terrible burden of disease in their blood vessels that causes a lot of heart attacks, strokes and hardening of their blood vessels, Dr. Rex Jamison of Stanford University said.

Researchers thought folic acid and B vitamins would help those patients because they lower a chemical in the blood called homocysteine.

If those levels are high, heart attack, stroke and vascular disease are more frequent.

In a three-year study of more than 2,000 Veterans Affairs patients with serious kidney disease and high homocysteine levels, half got daily treatment with folic acid and B vitamins. The rest got sugar pills.

“We did not reduce the number of deaths in the treatment group. We did lower their homocysteine levels significantly, but despite this, there was no benefit,” Jamison said.

The findings are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Nonetheless, kidney expert Dr. Glen Chertow of the University of California at San Francisco said the findings are valuable because now doctors know what's not the answer.

“It allows us to concentrate our efforts elsewhere so we can focus on other aspects of care or other therapies that might improve the care of patients with chronic kidney disease,” Chertow said.

Even without new therapies, however, people can avoid conditions that put them at risk of kidney disease. Exercising, eating nutritious foods, maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking are all smart habits.