High Intake of Folate May Be Protective Against Breast Cancer.
Breast cancer is a physically and emotionally traumatizing disease. Unfortunately, the incidence of breast cancer has been increasing steadily for decades. In 1972 when President Nixon declared our national war on cancer, a woman's lifetime risk of developing breast cancer was 1 in 20. Today breast cancer rates have escalated to the point where women's lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is 1 in 8. In the year 2007, the American Cancer Society estimated that nearly 240,510 women would be diagnosed with breast cancer and approximately 40,460 women would die from it. This means that approximately every two and a half minutes a woman in the United States is diagnosed with breast cancer and that approximately every thirteen minutes, a woman dies from this disease. Breast cancer has become the second largest cause of cancer death in women, after lung cancer, and the leading cause of death for women between the ages of 35 and 54.
Folic acid (also known as folate) is a member of the water-soluble B vitamin group. Isolated in 1946 from spinach leaves, its name comes from folium, the Latin word for leaf. In the body, folic acid is converted to a more biologically active form. Folate has many clinical applications such as: Alzheimer's disease, alcoholism, atherosclerosis, birth defects, cervical dysplasia, cognitive enhancement, depression, gingivitis, pregnancy and lactation. Folic acid is one of the most common vitamin deficiencies. Substantial destruction occurs during food processing and heat, light, and oxygen easily destroy it. Symptoms of folic acid deficiency include headache, fatigue, hair loss, insomnia, birth defects, cervical dysplasia, and elevated homocysteine.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has found that very high folate intake may be protective against breast cancer. The trial included 35,023 women aged 50-76 years who participated in the Vitamins and Lifestyle (VITAL) cohort study. It was determined that between the years 2000 to 2006 a total of 743 women were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. The researchers found that women who consumed 1,272 or more dietary folate equivalents (DFE)/day of total folate over an average 10-year period had a 22 percent decrease in breast cancer risk compared with women consuming 345 DFE/day or less. It was also discovered that the effect of very high folate intake was more pronounced when focusing on estrogen receptor (ER)-negative tumors alone, which is particularly important since ER-negative breast cancers generally have a poorer prognosis than their ER-positive counterparts. This research appears to indicate that high intakes of folate may actually be protective against breast cancer, especially ER-negative tumors.1
1 Maruti SS, Ulrich CM, White E. Folate and one-carbon metabolism nutrients from supplements and diet in relation to breast cancer risk. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89(2):624-33.