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Folic acid supplementation and cancer risk


Folate is one of the few vitamins for which a widespread deficiency is generally accepted (1). An adequate intake, particularly for women of childbearing age who wish to have children, is essential for the prevention of neural tube defects and other birth defects in infants. Folate also plays an important role in the prevention of chronic diseases. The fortification of staple foods (eg flour) that contain folic acid is an effective way to provide adequate folic acid intake for the population. Countries in North and South America and Australia have been practising this successfully for many years.

However, concerns about a possible increased risk of certain cancers, eg colon cancer, have prevented the further spread of this practice.

The recently in The Lancet published meta-analysis (2) has given the all clear on this issue. This is an important development concerning the question in the recommendation of folic acid supplementation. The meta-analysis also took high doses into account and found no increased risk.

(1) ENA 2012, Dietary supplements - A guide through the opinion jungle

(2) Vollset SE et al.: Effects of folic acid supplementation on overall and site-specific cancer incidence during the randomised trials: meta-analyses of data on 50 000 individuals. The Lancet 2013 Jan 24. pii: S0140-6736(12)62001-7. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(12)62001-7. [Epub ahead of print]