Folate/Folic Acid Health Benefits
Folate/folic acid health benefits include a role in prostate cancer and supporting heart health in men. Folate and folic acid are two versions of the same B vitamin: folate is the form that occurs naturally in food while folic acid is the synthetic version that is added to foods and is available as a supplement.
Once in the body, this B vitamin is needed for the synthesis of nucleic acids and the formation of heme, the substance that carries iron in red blood cells. Folic acid is also essential during pregnancy for the development of the neural tube, which forms the brain and spinal cord.
Folate/Folic Acid and Prostate Health
Folate/folic acid health benefits have been explored regarding prostate health. For example, several large studies have shown that low folate levels are associated with an increased risk of developing several types of cancer, including prostate cancer. Folate has a major role in the manufacture and repair of DNA. Therefore low folate levels make DNA more likely to be damaged and thus can lead to cancer. In a 2005 study, scientists found that higher levels of folate reduced the risk of developing prostate cancer. (Pelucci 2005)
The study involved 1,294 men with prostate cancer and 1,451 controls who had acute, noncancerous conditions. The men’s intake of folate and other nutrients were determined using a food frequency questionnaire, and alcohol intake was also examined. Overall, the investigators determined that dietary folate “supports a favorable role” regarding prostate cancer risk. They also noted that the combined benefit of high intake of folate and low intake of alcohol provided “up to a 54% risk reduction.”
Results of a subsequent study suggested that higher folate levels may lower the risk of developing advanced prostate cancer. (Stevens 2006) The results of this latter study were not statistically significant, so the lower risk is uncertain based on this research.
A later study, however, suggested that high levels of folate in the blood place men at increased risk of prostate cancer. Investigators examined data from the Aspirin/Folate Polyp Prevention Study, which was a trial of aspirin and folic acid supplementation taken to prevent colorectal adenomas. The participants were followed for up to 10.8 years Among the 643 men who took placebo or folic acid, the risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer over the study period was 9.7% in the men who took folic acid compared with 3.3% in men who took a placebo. However, dietary folate intake and plasma folate levels in men who did not take folic acid were associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer, although it was not statistically significant. The authors noted that their findings “highlight the potential complex role of folate in prostate cancer and the possibly different effects of folic acid-containing supplements vs natural sources of folate.” (Figueiredo 2009)
How To Get Folate/Folic Acid Health Benefits
Folate/folic acid health benefits can be derived from foods and supplements. The recommended dosage of folate/folic acid is 400 micrograms daily for men. Healthy levels of folate are found in cereals, leafy vegetables, asparagus, bananas, melons, legumes, mushrooms, and tomato juice.
Figueiredo JC et al. Folic acid and risk of prostate cancer: results from a randomized clinical trial. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2009; 101(6): 432-35
Pelucci C et al. Dietary folate and risk of prostate cancer in Italy. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2005; 14(4):944-948.
Stevens VL et al. Folate nutrition and prostate cancer incidence in a large cohort of US men. Am J Epidemiol 2006; 163(11):989-96.