February has been named American Heart Month in an effort to raise awareness about living heart healthy and reducing the risk of heart disease.

Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, remains the leading global cause of death. CVD kills more than 17.3 million people each year, and this number is expected to rise to more than 23.6 million by the year 2030.

In the U.S., nearly one in every three Americans has high blood pressure. More concerning though is that someone experiences a stroke, on average, every 40 seconds. There are roughly 795,000 new or recurrent strokes each year.

While eating healthy, reducing stress, and daily exercise are the absolute best way to prevent cardiovascular disease, folic acid has also been found to help reduce the risk of heart disease in numerous studies.

Researchers have found that folic acid and other B vitamin deficiencies can lead to elevated homocysteine levels, which has been pegged as a potential risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

Homocysteine is an amino acid that comes from the normal breakdown of proteins in the body. Folic acid supports the breakdown of amino acids.

Some research also indicates that folic acid may provide stroke protection. One recent study by the University of Toronto found that those who take blood pressure pills and folic acid are up to 75% less likely to have a stroke.

While the American Heart Association does not recommend folic acid supplements as a means to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, they do suggest a balanced diet that includes folate-rich foods. Those foods include dark green vegetables like broccoli, asparagus, and spinach; dried legumes such as chickpeas, beans, and lentils; citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit, and papaya. Additional foods high in folic acid include avocado, okra, Brussels sprouts, sunflower seeds, peanuts, and almonds.