Are you increasing your cancer risk by taking folic acid? How a simple lab test may reveal the answer.
By: Dr. Buckley
Folic acid is a synthetic variant of what is called vitamin B9. In a successful effort to reduce neural tube defects in fetal development, processed foods have had folic acid added to them by law here in the US since 1998. For this reason, folic acid is now considered to be one of the least common vitamins people may be overtly deficient in. People often refer to folic acid and folate interchangeably, but they are in fact two distinct molecules. Nature does not produce folic acid, and in actuality, your body doesn’t use folic acid to make your biochemical machinery function. Nature produces the active folates, which are naturally occurring in foods, mainly leafy green vegetables. In order for folic acid to become a folate, and turn a number of important biochemical gears within your body, it must undero a multi-step biochemical process. This is where problems may occur.
When folic acid isn’t properly converted, or natural folate is lacking in the body, the following health problems may arise:
- Incidence and recurrence of Neural Tube Defects (serious birth defects of the spinal cord and the brain which arise during the early development of the embryo, most common being spina bifida)
- Increased risk of certain cancers
- Elevated Homocysteine, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, stroke and many other health conditions
- And due to the impairment of what I refer to as “the backbone of our biochemistry”, the methylation cycle, virtually every health problem known to man.
What may cause such a folate deficiency?
- Inadequate dietary intake
- Increased requirement, as in pregnancy and lactation
- Altered hepatic (liver) metabolism
- Increased elimination of folate
- Genetic mutations (MTHFR)
- Zinc and Riboflavin deficiencies, impairing proper folic acid conversion.
More and more research is accumulating which is indicating that many people may be increasing their risks of various health problems, such as cancer, from the use of folic acid supplementation and food fortification (1)(2)(3). The reason for this appears to be related to the affect of the buildup of the unconverted form of folic acid. This unconverted form of folic acid has been shown to block the receptor sites of the cells, which impairs the ability for the active folate to enter the cell and do its job(4). This problem is exacerbated if you happen to have a mutation in the MTHFR gene which is involved in converting folic acid into its bioactive forms, which is estimated to occur in nearly 1/2 of the US population (5). For this reason, I strongly encourage everybody to avoid supplements with folic acid as an ingredient, and I also encourage everyone to check to see if they have an MTHFR mutation. If folate supplementation is needed, I recommend seeking either folinic acid, or 5-MTHF as supplements, as both forms are directly bioactive in the body. A nutrigenomics assessment can tell you if you have an MTHFR mutation, in addition to other key mutations which may be impairing you from achieving optimal health. In all of healthcare, very few lab tests can claim to have significance your entire life, but this is one of them!