Folic acid, or vitamin B9, may suppress allergic reactions and lessen the severity of allergy and asthma symptoms, according to new research from the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.
Folic acid is essential for red blood cell health and long known to reduce the risk of spinal birth defects.
In what is believed to be the first study in humans examining the link between blood levels of folate - the naturally occurring form of folic acid - and allergies, the Hopkins scientists say results add to mounting evidence that folate can help regulate inflammation. Recent studies, including research from Hopkins, have found a link between folate levels and inflammation-mediated diseases, including heart disease.
A report on the Hopkins Children's findings appears online ahead of print in the Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology.
Cautioning that it's far too soon to recommend folic acid supplements to prevent or treat people with asthma and allergies, the researchers emphasize that more research needs to be done to confirm their results, and to establish safe doses and risks.
Reviewing the medical records of more than 8,000 people ages 2 to 85 the investigators tracked the effect of folate levels on respiratory and allergic symptoms and on levels of IgE antibodies, immune system markers that rise in response to an allergen. People with higher blood levels of folate had fewer IgE antibodies, fewer reported allergies, less wheezing and lower likelihood of asthma, researchers report.
"Our findings are a clear indication that folic acid may indeed help regulate immune response to allergens, and may reduce allergy and asthma symptoms," says lead investigator Elizabeth Matsui, M.D. M.H.S., pediatric allergist at Hopkins Children's.
"But we still need to figure out the exact mechanism behind it, and to do so we need studies that follow people receiving treatment with folic acid, before we even consider supplementation with folic acid to treat or prevent allergies and asthma," the expert added.