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PLoS One. 2011 Feb 2;6(2):e16473. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0016473.

Reconciling the evidence on serum homocysteine and ischaemic heart disease: a meta-analysis.

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Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, Barts and the London School of Medicine, Queen Mary University of London, London, United Kingdom.



Results from genetic epidemiological studies suggest that raised serum homocysteine is a cause of ischaemic heart disease, but the results of randomised trials suggest otherwise. We aimed to update meta-analyses on each type of study using the latest published data and test a hypothesis based on antiplatelet therapy use in the trials to explain the discrepancy.


Meta-analyses of ischaemic heart disease using (i) 75 studies in which the prevalence of a mutation (CT) in the MTHFR gene (which increases homocysteine) was determined in cases (22,068) and controls (23,618), and (ii) 14 randomised trials (39,597 participants) of homocysteine lowering and ischaemic heart disease events. The summary estimates from the two analyses were compared. Meta-analysis of the MTHFR studies showed a statistically significantly increased risk of ischaemic heart disease in TT compared with CC homozygotes; odds ratio 1.16 (1.04 to 1.29) for a 1.9 µmol/L homocysteine difference (TT minus CC). Meta-analysis of randomised trials showed no significant reduction in IHD risk from folic acid; relative risk 1.00 (0.93 to 1.08), despite a reduction in homocysteine of 3.3 µmol/L. There was a statistically significant difference in risk reduction between the 5 trials with the lowest prevalence of antiplatelet therapy (60% on average, usually aspirin), RR 0.93 (0.84 to 1.05) and the 5 trials with the highest prevalence (91% on average), RR 1.09 (1.00 to 1.19), p = 0.037 for the difference.


Discordant results from MTHFR studies and randomised trials could be explained by aspirin reducing or negating the anti-platelet effect of lowering homocysteine. On this basis, folic acid would have a role in the primary prevention of ischaemic heart disease, when aspirin is not taken routinely, but not in secondary prevention, when it is routine.

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