Researchers in the UK report a possible increase in the risk of developing breast cancer among women who take folic acid supplements while pregnant. However, the senior investigator from the University of Bristol stressed that it is important that we don't confuse women about the need to take folic acid supplements early in pregnancy.
Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, a B vitamin found in green leafy vegetables, fruits and dried beans and lentils. Research has shown that taking the supplements before conceiving and early in pregnancy dramatically reduces the risk of birth defects such as spina bifida that affect the brain and spinal cord.
The current concerns come from a study, published in the British Medical Journal, involving nearly 3,000 pregnant women who randomly assigned to take a high or low dose of folic acid, or an inactive placebo, between 1966 and 1967. By 2002, a total of 210 women had died, with 40 deaths attributed to cardiovascular disease, 112 to cancer, and 31 specifically to breast cancer. There were 17 deaths from breast cancer in the placebo group (0.9 percent), six among those assigned to low-dose folic acid (1.3 percent), and eight among those given high-dose folic acid (1.6 percent).
However, after accounting for demographics, smoking, weight and blood pressure, none of the differences between groups were significant from a statistical standpoint.
The researchers report that it is entirely possible that this is a chance or fluke finding -- so further scientific studies are required to examine the association, if there is one, before we reach any conclusions.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.