Folate from food, not from supplements, may cut Pancreatic Cancer risk

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last updated: March 2006

A new study found folate from food, but not from supplements, may help prevent pancreatic cancer

Researchers from Stockholm, Sweden followed more than 81,000 individuals for more than 6 years. They found that people eating at least 350 ug of folate from fruits and vegetables daily had lowered their risk of developing pancreatic cancer by 75%, compared to those consuming less than 200 ug. Surprisingly, people who took folic acid supplements had the same risk of developing pancreatic cancer as those who did not take the supplements. The result of this study was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute on March 15, 2006.

Editor's Note: Food source is better than pills

Previous epidemiologic studies showed that high folate intake is associated with decreased risk of some cancers, particularly colorectal cancer. The above study is one of the few which investigated the possible role of folate in pancreatic cancer prevention. Unlike here in North America, refined grains in Sweden are not fortified with folate. Their dietary sources of folate are from green leafy vegetables, broccoli, cauliflower, dried beans, oranges, nuts and whole grains. It is surprising that folic acid supplements did not offer the same benefits - and it's yet another case where food is proven to be better than pills.

Bottom Line: As mentioned above, refined grains such as flour, pasta, and rice are fortified with folate in North America. Some breakfast cereals are folate-fortified as well. And if you eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, folate deficiency is rare. Hence folic acid supplementation is unnecessary, unless for pregnant women. The recommended daily intake of folate for healthy adults is 400 ug (i.e. 0.4 mg) per day. Folate requirement increases to 600 ug (i.e. 0.6 mg) during pregnancy.

Folate and Heart Diseases: Two recent studies published in March 2006 also showed that folic acid supplements did not prevent stroke or heart attacks. Shockingly, one study from Norway actually found that folic acid supplements increase the risk for heart diseases.

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