Findings from a small UK study suggest that taking a folic acid supplement daily could help ward off colon cancer in people at risk of the disease. Previous research has suggested that taking folate supplements, or eating a folate-rich diet, could help reduce the risk of this type of cancer. While folate, is found in fruit and green, leafy vegetables and frequently added to grains including bread and cereal, it can also be taken in supplement form.
Researchers from Northern Ireland evaluated the effects of a 2-milligram (2 mg) supplement of folic acid taken daily for 3 months, in six people with recurrent colon polyps. They were compared with five people who also had recurrent polyps but took an inactive placebo instead.
All of the men and women in the study had tissue samples from their rectums analyzed before, during and after the study period. The researchers evaluated these samples to determine whether or not cells from the lining of the rectum were actively dividing and multiplying--an indication that polyps and possibly cancer may be more likely to develop.
While all of the patients showed similar rates of cell growth before taking the folic acid supplements, after the study began there was a reduction of cell growth in those taking folate. And 6 weeks after the study's end, when patients were no longer taking folate, tissue samples from the two groups again showed a similar rate of cell growth.
The finding suggests that folate may hamper polyp growth, which could ultimately reduce the risk of developing colon cancer. However, consuming too much folate may be harmful, especially for individuals with vitamin B12 deficiency, those who have advanced cancer or people who are taking medication for epilepsy.
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