Asparagus: Health Benefits

Heart Health

Folate is essential for a healthy cardiovascular system. Folate is involved in the methylation cycle, a biochemical event in which a methyl group--one atom of carbon and three atoms of hydrogen--is transferred from one molecule to another. Methylation reactions are the body's biochemical "spark plugs" in a wide variety of very important reactions. For example, methylation is crucial for the proper transcription of DNA, and transforms norepinephrine into adrenaline, and serotonin into melatonin. When the methylation cycle flows smoothly, the amino acid methionine is transformed into homocysteine, which is quickly converted into cysteine, and then back into methionine. Folate (along with vitamins B6 and B12) is necessary for the conversion of homocysteine into cysteine. When folate levels are low, blood levels of homocysteine rise, a situation that significantly increases the risk for heart disease. Homocysteine promotes atherosclerosis by reducing the integrity of blood vessel walls and by interfering with the formation of collagen (the main protein in connective tissue). Elevations in homocysteine are found in approximately 20-40% of patients with heart disease, and it is estimated that consumption of 400 mcg of folate daily would reduce the number of heart attacks suffered by Americans each year by 10%. Just one serving of asparagus supplies almost 66% of the daily recommended intake of folate.