For The Patriot Ledger
July 8, 2009
People who take a multivitamin and eat foods with added
vitamins, like some cereals and nutrition bars, may be increasing their
risk of cancer from excessive folic acid. This could be the result of
a Food and Drug Administration mandate to add folic acid, a B vitamin,
to our food supply.
Folic acid is the synthetic form of the B vitamin, folate, which is
needed to produce healthy cells. A deficiency results in an abnormally
low amount of red blood cells. Folate also helps break down the amino
acid, homocysteine, which benefits the heart and arteries.
More folate is needed by pregnant women, especially in the first
trimester, to prevent serious birth defects, including spina bifida,
but many women run short because they are not aware of being pregnant
until months later.
In an effort to reduce birth defects, the FDA implemented the folic
acid fortification program in January 1998. Manufacturers are required
to add 140 micrograms of folic acid per 100 grams of grain to cereals,
breads, pasta, rice and other products labeled "enriched.â�� National
health surveys from 1988-96 found most people did not consume enough
folate, but after the fortification program, they consumed recommended
This change in our food system has decreased birth defects by 45
percent and reduced heart attacks and strokes. But some are questioning
if a rise in certain cancers, particularly colon cancer, might be
More research is under way to answer this question, but what should a consumer do now?
Continue to eat your leafy greens, citrus fruits, and legumes that
contain natural folate. There is no risk of overdoing this type because
the body adjusts how much will be absorbed. Synthetic folic acid, the
type used in multivitamins and added to foods, is rapidly absorbed and
must be converted to folate. It lingers in the body and some scientists
believe large amounts might help cancer cells grow.
The daily value on food labels is set at 400 mcg. If you eat a
cereal with 100 percent of the daily value (400 mcg), and take a
multivitamin containing 400 mcg, and eat a fortified nutrition bar,
like say a Luna Bar with another 400 mcg â�� you would exceed the upper
limit. It is best to get the complete benefit of a multivitamin, and
avoid highly fortified foods in general. Here are some tips.
- Choose a multivitamin with 400 mcg folic acid or less per serving.
- Avoid cereals (Total, Kashi Heart to Heart, Special K and others
that provide 100 percent of the daily value for folic acid) if you
take a multivitamin.
- Choose nutrition bars â�� like Nature Valley, Kashi, Trader Joeâ��s
and others â�� that do not add vitamins to their product (aim for 0 to 25
percent of the daily value of folic acid).
- Check labels of protein shakes, Slim Fast, meal replacement bars/cookies to avoid going over the 1,000 mcg daily limit.
Joan Endyke is a registered dietitian with a masterâ��s degree in
nutrition and food science, and also a certified personal trainer. She
is the nutrition director at Fitness Unlimited. Readers may send
questions about nutrition to Endyke at Fitness Unlimited, 364 Granite
Ave., Milton, MA 02186 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The
information in this column is not intended to diagnose individual
conditions. Readers should see their doctors about specific problems.