Folic Acid in the News

Whether you’re thinking about becoming pregnant or are currently pregnant, you have most likely heard of the importance of taking your vitamins, particularly folic acid, to ensure you have a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby.

Folic acid, a B vitamin, plays an important role in the development of an unborn baby’s spine, brain and skull. But it is now being scrutinized in a new study which suggests that high consumptions could potentially lead to cancer.

According to a recent story published in the Globe and Mail, researchers at St. Michaels Hospital in Toronto discovered, when given folic acid supplements during pregnancy, daughters of rats were more likely to develop breast cancer and have faster-spreading tumours than a control group. This story follows a 2009 studyconducted by researchers at the Haukeland University Hospital in Norway who found that heart disease patients were more likely to develop cancer when given a combination of vitamin B12 and folic acid.

Why were both groups more likely to develop cancer? Experts can’t yet agree on an answer. But what they do say is that, because folic acid plays a large role in cell development and regeneration, consuming too much may cause cancerous and pre-cancerous cells to grow.

While definitely frightening, the researchers and the medical community are telling the public that these studies should not deter women who plan to become pregnant and who are pregnant from taking the vitamin.

Benefits Remain Undisputed

The research suggesting a link between folic acid and cancer is still being investigated but it remains undisputed that folate supplementation plays a large role in the development of DNA and significantly reduces the risk of babies being born with neural tube defects (NTD). Because of the evidence, Health Canada advises all women who could become pregnant to consume 400 mcg (0.4 mg) of folic acid a day at least three months prior to conception and throughout their pregnancy.

Because as many as 50 per cent of pregnancies are unplanned, since 1998 Canada has taken measures to ensure folic acid is part of a regular diet by adding it to flour and grain products. The population now receives an estimated 0.1 to 0.2 mg of the vitamin. Thanks to these measures, NTD’s have decreased across the country by 46 per cent.

In addition to enhanced grain products, you can receive folate from such foods as:

  • Avocado
  • Carrots
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Eggs
  • Milk

While Health Canada advises women to take 0.4 mg of folic acid a day, it’s still important for you to discuss with your doctor how much you should consume. He or she will be able to tell you whether you require a prescription supplement, a multi-vitamin that contains folic acid or both.

The recent findings linking folic acid to cancer are startling, but pregnant women and women thinking about getting pregnant shouldn’t panic. Even the researchers who conducted these studies agree that more research is required.