Folates in Diet and Reduced Colorectal Cancer Risk

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July 6, 2011. A diet that includes high levels of the water soluble B vitamin called folate may lower the risk of developing colorectal cancer. This is the finding of a new study published in Gastroenterology, the journal of the American Gastroenterological Association.

Victoria Stevens, PhD, of the American Cancer Society and lead author of this study, said. “We found that all forms and sources of folate were associated with lower risk of colorectal cancer. The strongest association was with total folate, which suggests that total folate intake is the best measure to define exposure to this nutrient because it encompasses all forms and sources.” Total folate is the inclusive term for naturally occurring folates in food, and folic acid in dietary supplements and fortified foods.

The study followed over 99,000 persons in the Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort, charting their folate consumption and the incidence of colorectal cancer. Just over 1,000 participants were found to have colorectal cancer in the 1999-2007 period, after folate fortification of foods began. The first 2 years of follow-up, 1999-2001, showed no change in risk, while statistically significant inverse associations appeared in the years 2002-2007.

These findings are confirming evidence of the relation between high folate consumption and lowered risk of colorectal cancer, adding to similar findings from other research. One unique aspect of this study, however, is that it followed natural folate intake and folic acid intake separately. Earlier research that tabulated folate forms separately only distinguished different sources (diet versus supplements), not the chemical forms.

Another area covered by this study was the often-expressed concern that high folate consumption, which is common in the U.S. due to increasing use of supplements and legislation requiring folate fortification, might cause increased cancer risk

Folates are necessary nutrients that the body uses to produce elements needed for cell growth, including the production and repair of DNA. Because of this relationship to cell growth and cell differentiation, any possible relationship between folate levels and cancer, which is characterized by abnormal cell growth, has been carefully studied, particularly in relation to colorectal cancer.

Since no increased colorectal cancer was found to occur in persons with the highest folate intakes, the study suggests that this vitamin does not lead to higher cancer rates.

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