25 Jan 2008
A decade ago, after researchers linked folic acid with a reduced rate of a birth defect called spinal bifidia, the FDA mandated that the substance be added to wheat flour and other grain products. Since that time, 42 other countries have implemented some form of mandatory folic acid fortification based on the same premise.
However recent research has revealed that over the past decade, rates of colorectal cancer in the United States have risen for inexplicable reasons, even as regular colonoscopy check-ups have become more common. In Canada, where folic acid supplementation was introduced a bit later, the same trend has been observed.
Two recent commentaries appearing in Nutrition Reviews address these findings and provide an overview of the existing evidence on folic acid fortification and the associated policy issues.
Dr. Solomons, author of one of the commentaries, “Food Fortification with Folic Acid: Has the Other Shoe Dropped?” advises that a careful reconsideration of the fortification program is needed stating, “One size of dietary folic acid exposure does not fit all. It can be beneficial to some and detrimental to others at the same time.”
Since the risk-benefit value of fortification varies according to age, Solomons suggests a reevaluation of the manner in which folic acid to prevent birth defects is delivered to the public. Among other things, Solomon feels that folic acid supplementation could be targeted in a different manner to women of reproductive age. Then, in order to protect the rest of the population, reducing folic acid levels in foods for which fortification is optional (such as ready-to-eat cereals and commercial drinks), would be worthy of consideration.
“Folic acid supplementation wields a double-edged sword,” remarks Dr. Young-In Kim, author of Folic Acid Fortification and Supplementation—Good for Some but Not So Good for Others,” the other commentary review published in the November issue. According to Kim, “It may be beneficial or harmful, depending on the timing of intervention.” Exposure to high intakes of folic acid in early life and young adulthood may provide life-long protection from the tendency for cancer formation in different organs, such as the large intestines, whereas such exposures later in life, when cell damage has occurred, can spur on the advance of the tumor.
These results should come as no surprise to people on the Marshall Protocol who realize that L-form bacteria at the root of most chronic disease use extra folic acid to their own advantage. If a person consumes too much folic acid, L-form bacteria will use it to generate their own nucleic acids, facilitating their ability to replicate and create their DNA.
Similarly, researchers in the UK are arguing against a measure that would require an increase in the amount of folic acid added to food products in England. Their concerns stem from the results of a recent study by the Institute of Food Research in the United Kingdom, which found that the liver could easily become saturated by folic acid at the levels the English government plans to add to the food supply (levels that would equal those mandated by the American government).
Writing in the British Journal of Nutrition, the researchers warn this could lead to unmetabolized folic acid entering the blood, which could damage health. “With doses of half the amount being proposed for fortification in the UK, the liver becomes saturated and unmetabolised folic acid floats around the blood stream,” reports Dr. Sian Astley of the research team.
“This can cause problems for people being treated for leukemia and arthritis, women being treated for ectopic pregnancies, men with a family history of bowel cancer, people with blocked arteries being treated with a stent and elderly people with poor vitamin B status.”
“For women undergoing in-vitro fertilization, it can also increase the likelihood of conceiving multiple embryos, with all the associated risks for the mother and babies.”
Studies have confirmed that unmetabolized folic acid accelerates cognitive decline in the elderly with low levels of vitamin B12. It may also increase the incidence of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.
However, since the 1980s a consensus formed that folic acid is metabolized in the small intestine in a similar way to naturally-occuring folates.
“We challenge the underlying scientific premise behind this consensus,” states Astley, who also warned it could take 20 years for any potential harmful effects of unmetabolized folic acid to become apparent.
These studies are proof positive of the fact that adding artificial levels of a substance to the food chain can have serious, unintended, and detrimental effects on much of the population. While government efforts to help the public obtain substances such as folic acid have been in good faith, the simplistic notion that a large, diverse, population should all be given the same level of a substance has run its course.
In the case of vitamin D, mandatory fortification has resulted In disastrous consequences. Armed with the understanding that “vitamin” D obtained from supplements (25-D) is not a vitamin, but a potent secosteroid that represses the innate immune system and the transcription of thousands of genes, it is of utmost importance to re-evaluate the vitamin D dietary guidelines. Molecular research implies that when it comes to folic acid as well as vitamin D, we should be much less cavalier in our eagerness to fortify the food supply.
Amy Proal graduated from Georgetown University in 2005 with a degree in biology. While at Georgetown, she wrote her senior thesis on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Marshall Protocol.
Amy has spoken at several international conferences and authored several peer-reviewed papers on the intersection of bacteria and chronic disease.
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