Womens Health

Colon Cancer and Folic Acid: Is there A Link?

Folic acid has long been thought to help reduce the risk of colon cancer; in fact, a diet rich in foods high in folic acid has been thought to actually be able to prevent colon cancer. However, recent studies show that folic acid might actually increase the risk of colon cancer. So what exactly is the connection between colon cancer and folic acid?

What is Folic Acid?

Folic acid, which is also referred to as folate or folacin is an important B vitamin that is essential in the development of tissue as well as proper cell functioning. In addition, folic acid (also known as vitamin B9) also helps to form red blood cells as well as to produce DNA.

The recommended daily intake of folic acid is 180 to 200 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid. Pregnant women and women trying to conceive are recommended to take 400 mcg of folate daily.

What Foods Are High in Folic Acid?

Foods with high folic acid levels include the following:

  • dark green leafy vegetables
  • nuts and seeds
  • sprouts
  • liver and other organ meats
  • citrus fruits and juices
  • whole wheat bread
  • fortified grains including bread, cereals, pasta and rice
  • lightly cooked beans and peas
  • poultry

What Are Symptoms of Folic Acid Deficiency?

Folic acid can be caused by lack of adequate folic acid consumption in your diet, as well as by substances that can affect your ability to absorb folacin, including alcohol, birth control pills and other medication, including antibiotics. Age, illness, smoking and stress can also lead to folic acid deficiency.

Symptoms of folic acid deficiency include:

What are the Benefits of Folic Acid?

Folic acid is central to proper tissue growth and cell functioning. In addition, folate has been shown to reduce the risk of birth defects of the brain and spinal cord, including spina bifida.

Folacin, in addition to vitamins B-6 and B-12, also helps to reduce homocysteine (amino acid) levels in the blood, as well as to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Can Folic Acid Help Prevent Colon Cancer?

Previous studies have shown that diets low in folic acid increase an individual's risk of colon cancer.

However, a new study has found that high doses of folic acid do not prevent precancerous colon polyps in individuals at high risk for developing polyps; in addition, the study showed that high folic acid consumption may actually increase the risk of developing polyps. Study findings were based on data from 987 adults who had a history of precancerous colon polyps.

The study also suggested that some folic acid is beneficial if cancerous cells had not yet developed. However, in cases where cancerous cells were present, folic acid may have actually caused them to grow.

In fact, study participants who took folic acid had a higher number of growths (adenomas) several years later, compared to those participants who took placebos.

As such, some experts are suggesting that the fortification of certain foods in the United States with folic acid – which is required in some foods, including grains – should not be increased.

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