Folic acid safe

Folic acid has made the news in recent years for some less than favourable reasons. Women, especially pregnant women, have been advised to take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily, but reports came out saying that folic acid can increase the likelihood of developing some cancers. Now, a new study from The Lancet puts those fears to rest.

Folic acid is the synthetic version of folate, which is found naturally in such foods as leafy greens, orange juice and legumes. It helps the body make and maintain new cells. The fortification of flour and several other cereal grains with folic acid, following studies linking folic acid deficiency with spina bifida and anencephaly, two potentially devastating birth defects, has seen the rate of both defects decline by 20-50 per cent. No one disputes that women should have adequate amounts of folic acid in their bodies at conception. The first few weeks of pregnancy are especially critical. And because more than half of pregnancies are unplanned, doctors recommend that all women of childbearing age take a daily supplement of up to 800mcg. Getting enough folate also may protect against anaemia, premature birth and congenital heart defects, and keep hair, skin and nails healthy.

As mentioned though, there have been concerns raised that too much folic acid may increase cancer risk. At the same time, other research has suggested that folic acid may stop the progression of cancer.

In this new study, researchers examined the results of all large randomised trials of folic acid up to the end of 2010. In doing this they were analysing data on more than 50,000 people. They found that there was no notable increase in cancer of any type, even among people taking the highest levels of folic acid (much beyond what you would be taking in ordinary supplements and food). At the same time, they found there was no observable reduction in cancer risk either.

So, according to the researchers, their study should reassure people that taking folic acid, at least for up to five years, is safe. That might not make headlines because it isn’t a sensation and it isn’t bad news for anyone. It does seem kind of important though.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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