Folic acid supplements may enhance vasodilation in older adults by increasing skin blood flow during heat waves to reduce risk of cardiovascular events, a new study published in Clinical Science has shown.

Aged blood vessels do not produce sufficient nitric oxide due to decreased tetrahydrobiopterin (BH4) bioavailability. Study investigators from Penn State University previously found that when older adults were given BH4, they were able to produce more nitric oxide. For this study, researchers tested whether folic acid increased nitric oxide production by increasing Bh4.

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Healthy older adults (n=11) were tested in two sub-studies looking at localized heating and whole-body heating. In the local heating study, researchers used two intradermal microdialysis fibers to administer folic acid solution or lactated ringer’s solution (placebo) locally to the skin’s blood vessels. They found that blood vessels produced more nitric oxide than the blood vessels at the control site when folic acid availability increased. In the whole-body heating study, patients took folic acid 5mg or a placebo daily for 6 weeks, and skin temperature was controlled using a water-perfused body suit. Folic acid increased cutaneous vascular conductance (45±5%; P=0.001) and nitric oxide-dependent vasodilation (20±3%; P=0.003) in the elderly.

The study authors suggested possible research to evaluate whether folic acid can also improve vessel function in patients with cardiovascular disease, and determine if those who have taken folic acid supplements throughout their life have better vascular health vs. those who have not taken supplements.

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