Folic acid linked with reduced risk of cancer

A new study has linked high intake of folate – including folic acid from supplements – with reduced risk of colorectal cancer.

The study, published last month in the journal Gastroenterology, investigated the link between folate intake and colorectal cancer in 99,523 participants.  These individuals provided information about their diet as part of the Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort.

Asparagus is a great natural source of Folate. (5)

Lead researcher Victoria Stevens, PhD, of the American Cancer Society, said that “all forms and sources of folate were associated with lower risk of colorectal cancer.”

Folate, also known as Vitamin B9, is an essential nutrient required for the production and maintenance of new cells, including DNA synthesis and repair.  Because of this critical function, the relationship between folate intake and cancer development has been widely researched.

This most recent study, however, is the first to assess both natural folates (from food) and folic acid (the synthetic form, used in supplements).  It found that both forms of the vitamin were linked with decreased risk of cancer.  Low levels of folate have also been linked with conditions such as depression (2), breast cancer (3) and dementia (4).

Before taking a folic acid supplement it is recommended that you speak with your healthcare practitioner to check that it is right for you. When supplementing folic acid, it is often advisable to take it alongside, or as part of a Vitamin B Complex.  This is because the B Vitamins work together, so taking any one on its own can create a deficiency in the others.

Rich sources of folic acid include foods such as fortified breakfast cereals, enriched bread and fortified soy milk.  Taking a folic acid supplement, or a Vitamin B Complex supplement can help to ensure that you are getting enough of this essential nutrient.

Good sources of natural folate include:

  • asparagus
  • avocado
  • oranges
  • pulses, especially edamame beans, lentils and chickpeas
  • dark, leafy greens such as spinach, turnip greens and broccoli

Including these foods in your regular diet will help to boost your levels of folate.  As this B vitamin is water soluble, you should be careful to preserve this vitamin as you cook your food.  To preserve the folate content of your food, try steaming rather than boiling vegetables, or cook vegetables in soups and stews so that you don’t lose any vitamins leached into the water.

Written by Nadia Mason


1. Victoria L. Stevens, Marjorie L. McCullough, Juzhong Sun, Eric J. Jacobs, Peter T. Campbell, Susan M. Gapstur. (2011) High Levels of Folate From Supplements and Fortification Are Not Associated With Increased Risk of Colorectal Cancer. Gastroenterology 141(1): 98-105

2. Karakuła H, Opolska A, Kowal A, Domański M, Płotka A, Perzyński J. (2009). Does diet affect our mood? The significance of folic acid and homocysteine. Pol Merkur Lekarski 26 (152): 136–41.

3. Maruti SS, Ulrich CM and White E. (2009) Folate and one-carbon metabolism nutrients from supplements and diet in relation to breast cancer risk. Am J Clin Nutr 89:624–33.

4. Tettamanti, M. et al. (2007) Low folate and the Risk of Cognitive and Functional Deficits in the Very Old. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 25(6):502-8

5. Image courtesy of Paul.