Health benefits, consequences of folic acid dependent on circumstances

April 1, 2009

For the past several decades, evidence has shown that greater dietary intake of the B-vitamin, folate, offers protection against the development of certain common cancers and reduces neural tube defects in newborns, opening new avenues for public health interventions that have a great impact on health. However, folate's central role as an essential factor in DNA synthesis also means that abundant availability of the vitamin can enhance the development of pre-cancerous and cancerous tumors.

Further, the intake of folic acid that results from consuming foods that are voluntarily fortified (e.g.: ready-to-eat cereals) in combination with the additional intake received from mandatory fortification of flour means that supplementary intake of folic acid is unnecessary for many segments of the population, and may even present a risk. Nevertheless, the issue is a complicated one since women of child-bearing age seem to benefit from supplemental folic acid in regard to its protection against birth defects. In the April issue of the journal Nutrition Reviews, two new articles by Omar Dary, Ph.D., and Joel B. Mason, M.D., assess the conditions under which folic acid can be beneficial and harmful and contribute to guidelines for the healthful intake of folic acid as a complement to dietary folate.

The consequences of inadequate folate intake remain prevalent in many countries, even in industrial countries where specific interventions of folic acid have not been implemented. Moreover, there continues to be some concern—which, to date, lacks compelling scientific evidence—that the synthetic form of the vitamin, folic acid, might have adverse effects that do not exist with natural sources of folate.

Under most circumstances, adequate intake of folate appears to assume the role of a protective agent against cancer, most notably colorectal cancer. However, in select circumstances in which an individual who harbors a pre-cancerous or cancerous tumor consumes too much folic acid, the additional amounts of folate may instead facilitate the promotion of cancer. In countries in which the fortification of flour with folic acid is working well, additional supplementation in the form of vitamin pills can lead to excessive intakes of the vitamin, which can then have undesirable adverse effects.

Thus, folate appears to assume different guises depending on the circumstances. The level of intake of this micronutrient that is safe for one person may be potentially harmful to another.

"These effects of folate on the risk of developing cancer have created a global dilemma in the efforts to institute nationwide folic acid fortification programs around the world," Mason notes.

Most individuals in the U.S. population are now folate-replete, so one consideration would be to reduce the doses of the vitamin that are present in most over-the-counter supplements. Many people receive sufficient amounts of folate through their diet.

Now that the supply of folic acid in the diet is much larger than it was prior to mandatory fortification, food policies may need to be adjusted to the current knowledge and the new circumstances.

"The design of cogent policies that effectively optimize health for many while presenting no or minimal risk to others, must often occur in the absence of complete information," Mason concludes. "However, we are nevertheless obliged to deliberate with as much of an in-depth understanding as the existing science allows."

Source: Wiley (news : web)

Explore further: Too little folate may risk colon cancer

Related Stories

Folic acid cuts risk of cleft lip

January 26, 2007

Taking folic acid supplements in early pregnancy seems to substantially reduce the risk of cleft lip, finds a new study published in the British Medical Journal.

Folic acid linked to increased cancer rate

November 2, 2007

Two recent commentaries appearing in the November issue of Nutrition Reviews find that the introduction of flour fortified with folic acid into common foods was followed by an increase in colon cancer diagnoses in the U.S. ...

Folic acid, B vitamins do not appear to affect cancer risk

November 4, 2008

A daily supplementation combination that included folic acid and vitamin B6 and B12 had no significant effect on the overall risk of cancer, including breast cancer, among women at high risk of cardiovascular disease, according ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

( -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Apr 03, 2009
Folic Acid intakes have a definate effect on certain cellular THERMAL management, and thermal extremes increase mitosis rate, raising risk of cancer. Remote reading thermometers should be used before increasing Acid intake.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.