Folic Acid: The Double Edged Sword
As part of my detox, I’m taking a folic acid supplement. It has no beneficial detoxing effects, but it is important that I consume enough. Folate is a B vitamin that helps prevent anemia by helping cells grow and divide. It is also suggested for the prevention of spina bifida, a birth defect that causes a child to be born with an incomplete spine. For years, Health Canada has been requiring companies who make pastas, breads and cornmeal products to enrich their products with it. Birth defects plunged down by 50% after this was instituted. (Nutrition Action, 09.2011) A big reason is that women were not consuming adequate amounts of folic acid in the first month of fetal development, where it mattered most. I’m not planning of having children anytime in the near future, but I’ll call folic acid my ‘lil insurance policy in case my plans change. I would definitely suggest that any woman who is in the ‘baby making’ age category be taking a folic acid supplement, especially if you are not someone who consumes the products that are enriched with it.
If you are not in the above category, you need to watch how much you are consuming. Too much folic acid has been shown to double the risk of colorectal cancer. Not only that, but it can triple the likelihood of prostate cancer in men. (Nutrition Action, 09.2011) Now don’t get overexcited, these studies are not entirely conclusive. On top of which, you need to be taking more than 800-1,000 micrograms of folic acid to reach those levels. But if you are eating fortified foods, taking a multivitamin and adding a B complex on top of that, you may be exceeding those doses every day.
So, as a Canadian who is already eating a folate enriched diet, what should you be doing?
If you are a man or woman and you want to take a multivitamin, look for one that has 400 micrograms of folic acid. You don’t even need really need to take one if you have an enriched diet and eat lots of leafy green veggies! If you are a woman in your child bearing years like yours truly, you should take a folic acid supplement or look for a multi-vitamin that has 400 mcg, or close to it. 1,000 mcg is more than any healthy person needs.
What happens if you already take a multivitamin that has more than 800 mcg of folic acid? Well, according to all the studies, most of them didn’t find any negative affects until subjects were followed for six years. So, start cutting them in half or buy a new supplement.
I’m going to just point out here that I am not a doctor or registered dietitian, so if you are worried about your folate intake, it’s always best to consult with an expert.
How much folate is in your multivitamin?
- Pregnancy Nutrition: First Trimester Pointers (enfamil.com)
- Supplement use predicts folate status in Canadian women (eurekalert.org)
- Folic Acid (cooloasis.wordpress.com)