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Folic Acid Supplements Don't Affect Your Risk for Cancer

< Jan. 30, 2013 > -- Many of us get enough folic acid - a type of B vitamin - from the foods we eat. But some people may need to take a folic acid supplement. There has been some concern that such supplements may increase a person's risk for cancer. But the findings from a new research review found no such cancer connection.

Photo of a woman holding a bowl of cereal

Folic acid and cancer

To better understand the effects of folic acid supplements on the body, British researchers reviewed the results of all large randomized studies through 2010 that included folic acid supplements. The combined studies had about 50,000 participants.

From their analysis, researchers found that taking a daily folic acid supplement for up to five years didn't increase a person's risk for cancer. Taking these supplements even longer and at higher doses also seemed to show no significant rise in cancer risk. In fact, people who took folic acid supplements daily were just as likely to be diagnosed with cancer as those who did not take them.

And some studies suggest that folic acid may help prevent cancer, particularly colorectal cancer. But more research is needed to verify this link.

And some studies suggest that folic acid may help prevent cancer, particularly colorectal cancer. But more research is needed to verify this link.

Facts about folic acid

Folic acid is also known as folate. The body uses this vitamin to help produce new cells. It's especially important for pregnant women. It helps protect the growing baby from birth defects such as spina bifida, a condition that causes damage to the spinal cord and nerves.

Folic acid is found naturally in many foods. Some of the best sources of this vitamin include:

  • Dark-green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and romaine lettuce

  • Legumes, such as black-eyed peas and kidney beans

  • Other vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts and broccoli

  • Breakfast cereals fortified with folic acid

This study was published online in The Lancet.

For more information on health and wellness, please visit health information modules on this website.

Is a Supplement Right for You?

Although you can get most vitamins and minerals you need through a well-balanced diet, some people can benefit from also taking a supplement. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a vitamin supplement may be helpful if you fit any of these profiles:

  • You frequently skip meals or don't eat enough fruits, vegetables, grain, and dairy products.

  • You're on a low-calorie diet.

  • You're a strict vegetarian.

  • You can't drink milk or eat yogurt.

  • You're a woman of childbearing age and don't eat fruits and vegetables.

  • You are pregnant.

If you believe you should take vitamin supplements, talk with your doctor or dietitian to make sure you are taking the correct amount. He or she will also check that the supplements are not causing an interaction with other medications you take or any conditions you may have.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

CDC - Facts About Folic Acid

Office of Dietary Supplements - Folate

Office on Women's Health - Folic Acid Fact Sheet