Between 1996-1998, grocery stores across America began selling food products fortified with folic acid. Folic acid, a synthetic and bioavailable form of folate, was mandated by the US Food and Drug Administration to be added enriched grain products, like cereal or bread, to decrease the amount of infants born with neural tube defects (NTDs).
While by 2001, studies had shown that the prevalence of NTDs in the US had gone down, some suspicions had arose regarding other health issues surrounding the mandate. As a result, the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study (WHI-OS) recently conducted a study to find out if the women exposed to these fortified foods may have had an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Specifically focusing on the initial period of introducing folic acid into the US food supply.
As a result, WHI-OS researchers investigated links between intakes of several B vitamins (folate, riboflavin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12), and colorectal cancer in over 88,000 post-menopausal women.
Overall, they found:
- Women with the highest average intake of riboflavin and vitamin B6 had a 20% lower risk of colorectal cancer, when compared to those with the lowest average intake.
- Women with an increase of B vitamin intake and less alcohol intake were associated with reduced risk of colorectal cancer and regional disease.
So why was there any question regarding folic acid and colorectic cancer? Researchers explained “…in the early post-fortification period, total folate content of several fortified foods were reported to initially exceed the amount specified by federal regulations.”
Read the full study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.