folic acidKnown as vitamin B9 or folate, folic acid is undoubtedly one of the most important nutrients essential for normal function of our body. This nutrient is widely recognized as very useful but yet quite controversial one. Many experts agree that folic acid is a key nutrient for pregnant women, and according to Pamela Egan, FNP-C CDE, a folic acid deficiency in the first two weeks of pregnancy significantly increases the risk for developing spina bifida and other birth defects. For all of us, folic acid plays an important protective role and can help us lower the risks of cardiovascular diseases, depression and similar psychological disorders, inflammatory bowel condition, osteoporosis, blood vessel disease, as well as other serious health conditions. By adding natural sources of folic acid, primarily fresh fruit and vegetables, to our daily diet we get an opportunity to enjoy protective benefits of this nutrient.

However, there has been a certain controversy regarding folic acid. Despite the fact that quite a few studies have shown benefits of folate for cancer prevention (including the study by the specialists at Oncology Clinics of North America published in 2003 in Hematology, the research by Karolinska Institutet experts published in 2006 in Gastroenterology magazine, and others), there was an expert opinion that folic acid side effects, especially linked to folate overdose, include high cancer risk. It started in 2007, when a group of European specialists found out the links between folate consumption and colorectal cancer. However, the findings of the study were not accepted by American and Canadian scientists, and still this vitamin is being widely added to flour and some other consumer products in the US, Canada, South Africa and Australia, in order to decrease the risks of “neural tube defects” in babies.

Nevertheless, in Europe, the opinions and attitudes toward folic acid side effects are still pretty conservative, and not many specialists recommend using folic acid supplements as a part of any sort of therapy. To look closer at the mentioned side effects of vitamin B9 and shed some light on the controversy issue, a group of American and Canadian scientists analyzed the data collected on 50,000 people during a known survey by Lancet magazine over a five-year period of time. The basic dose was considered the one slightly highers than the dose of folate that is usually added to flour in modern US. higher cancer riskIt turned out that among those respondents who consumed the mentioned dose of folic acid there was very slightly higher cancer risk, but after analyzing other related factors (bad habits, increased exposure to toxic environment, and others), the experts came to the conclusion that the effects of folic acid consumption can be neglected.

If there was a substantial effect, we would expect to have seen it by now,” said  Dr Robert Clarke, one of the co-authors of the research and a specialist from the Clinical Trial Service Unit at the University of Oxford, the US. He is convinced that there should be no fears about being exposed to a higher cancer risk caused by a regular folic acid consumption. According to the specialist, for their analysis the scientists used much higher doses of folate as a basic dose, and the producers of flour or other commercial good always add much lower doses of this nutrient, with the issues of safety and health protection of the consumers primarily in the mind.

As a response to the findings of this interesting study, the British nutritionists and medical officers started promoting the idea of adding some small doses of folate to flour sold nationwide, in order to promote benefits of this nutrient. In particular, an expert from the British Dietetic Association underlined that this can turn into a very simple solution to increase vitamin B9 consumption and prevent spina bifida. However, Dr Sarah Schenker, a spokesperson of the Department of Health underlined that there are still some concerns related to the links between folic acid consumption and higher risk of anemia in the elderly. “Fortification may well be a good idea because our health messages about healthy eating aren’t always getting through,” she said. “Folic acid can certainly be recommended to pregnant women and those who may become pregnant,” Dr. Schenker added.

Author Info: Hi! My name is Carla and I am a 5th year medical student at HYMS. I am interested in alternative medicine and I have done months researching the topic of herbal medicine. Besides, I like interviewing people and learning more about their experiences with one or another type of herbal treatments. I am willing to contribute to this site with my knowledge, and I would be happy to help you out to the best of my ability with any specific questions or problems related to alternative medicine.

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