It is hypothesised that a single aetiological pathway could explain both the strong ecological association between the birth prevalence of neural tube defects (NTD) and coronary heart disease (CHD) mortality and the potential efficacy of dietary measures, especially increased folic acid intake, in their prevention. The epidemiological similarities between NTD and CHD are strong and consistent suggesting that the relation is real rather than artefactual. It is suggested that this epidemiological association reflects a shared aetiology arising from the role of disturbed homocysteine metabolism in the pathogenesis of both conditions. Current public health measures designed to increase the intake of periconceptional folic acid in women, reinforced by a broadening of this policy to target both sexes throughout life, will (if successful) result in a reduction in both the birth prevalence of NTD and the incidence of CHD, although not necessarily contemporaneously. If disordered homocysteine metabolism is the cause of both NTD and CHD, this has implications for future research and preventive strategies for these serious and often lethal diseases.
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