Boston, MA and Washington, D.C.April 1, 2009For 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 concernwhich, to date, lacks compelling scientific evidencethat 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 ha
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