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Folic acid raises cancer risk

23rd November 2009

Large doses of folic acid may promote the growth of certain cancers, according to a new Norwegian study.

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Heart patients in Norway who reported taking the B vitamin folate conjointly with vitamin B12 in the form of folic acid also had a slightly increased risk of fatal cancer.

People who did not report taking the two nutrients together had ordinary levels of cancer death.

Folic acid is important in cell reproduction and in pregnancy.

The researchers gathered data that had come from two previous heart health studies in order to examine the effects of dietary folate in Norwegians.

The total number of subjects was about 7,000 patients, all of whom had been given vitamin B containing folic acid and vitamin B12.

The subjects took the vitamins over a seven year period that stretched from 1998 to 2005.

Both studies could not come up with any evidence that folate affects cardiovascular health.

But Marta Ebbing of Haukeland University Hospital in Norway and colleagues said that they noticed lung cancer increases among the data.

They said that when folic acid growth administered for a period of time greater than three years, it seemed to feed the growth of small cancers, and that while their results needed confirmation in other populations, they underlined the call for safety around dietary folic acid.

Many countries such as the United States fortify flour and grains with folic acid and other vitamins.

The researchers found that levels of folate in the blood increased dramatically in their subjects when they were administered only small amounts of the vitamin.

Of the patients who took vitamin B for three years, 341 were diagnosed with cancer.

Of those who took a placebo instead, 288 were diagnosed with cancer.

The researchers calculated that taking folic acid increased cancer risk by 21% and increased fatal cancer risk by 38%.

The most common type of cancer spurred on by folate intake in the subjects was lung cancer.

The study participants had a 25% increased risk of lung cancer, and 90% of those who developed lung cancer were smokers.

Andrew Shao, the Vice President for Scientific and Regulatory Affairs, said that the real headline of this study should be that smoking while taking folate increased the risk of lung cancer.

Shao said that, since dietary folate was introduced in the US 10 years ago, lung cancer rates had also dropped.

Bettina Drake, PhD, of Washington University in St Louis School of Medicine said that she believed it was possible that folic acid protected against cancer at certain times in people's lives and promoted the disease at others.

 

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