Below is an article written by Dr Steve Chaney, who is a high level sales leader in our field, remarkable published researcher and professor in the department of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of North Carolina’s Medical School.
I have always appreciated Dr Chaney’s way of explaining things and after reading this felt it would be a great addition to I’ve written about prenatals, especially for the role folic acid plays in preventing birth defects.
A few of my own comments:
As long as I have explored research as a tool for understanding or prooving the validity of one nutrient or another – I often find more than one opinion and often opposing sides. I find articles come and go – the best always rise to the top. There is also plenty of really bad research. This is why I appreciate the perspectives of others to help me understand.
I remember when my company touted the importance of folic acid, especially for the prevention of birth defects. After testing many brands most didn’t deliver any folic acid to the blood stream. I found that appalling. My company equally horrified, explored the remarkable value of folic acid and said what can we do differently. Now our B Complex has its folic acid in it’s exterior coating The ever important folic acid is the first nutrient to hit the blood stream. This process is now patented. Isn’t that cool??
When I was learning about the value of B Complex I was taught that most companies skimp on Biotin and Folic acid because they are expensive. Time and time again I would see this on other brands labels. Sometimes Biotin would be completely missing. Additionally I was taught how all eight b vitamins need to be present and in balance to each other in order to assimilate well into the body. Yet so many competitors would have very high doses of one b, none of another and most of the time not in balance to each other
Dr. Chaney speaks to the concept of isolating nutrients, and how that’s NOT how it works. Plants need air, water, soil and sunshine in order to grow – remove part of the equation and a plant will wither. The same for our bodies human.
I will add one more thought and that is that it doesn’t say what type of folic acid was used in the studies that had negative impact. If it was a low quality or petroleum derived product could that have impacted the study?
Here is what Dr. Chaney has to say:
The news about folic acid or folate seems to be decided mixed of late, so many of you may be asking whether you should supplement with folate or not.
Let me start first with a review of some of the recent studies, and then I’ll help you put those studies into perspective.
Most of you are probably aware of the studies initiated by Dr. Smithells in England showing that supplementation with RDA levels (400 mcg per day) of folic acid prior to conception significantly reduced the risk of giving birth to babies with birth defects.
These were paradigm-shifting studies because they provided the first really good evidence that supplementation in advance could actually prevent a disease from occurring.
The data was so overwhelming that the United States now mandates enrichment of flour with 140 mcg of folic acid per 100 gm of flour – meaning that most Americans now are assured of getting at least 100 to 200 mcg per day of folic acid from their diet.
There were also a number of well done studies showing that supplementation with RDA levels of folic acid decreased levels of homocysteine, an amino acid byproduct thought to be associated with increased risk of heart disease and cognitive decline as we age.
However, the role of homocysteine in these and other diseases has become murkier in recent years.
So what do the recent studies show?
On the positive side, a recent Swedish study has shown that people who consumed RDA levels of folic acid from food and supplements were 44% less likely to develop invasive breast cancer than those consuming 160 mcg per day or less.
Two recent studies, one of which used supplements delivering 800 mcg of folic acid per day and a second in which participants were getting at least 400 mcg of folic acid a day from food and supplements, showed that those receiving the highest amount of folic acid had less cognitive decline than those consuming lower amounts.
Finally, a recent report showed that older women in the Nurses Health study who got 1,000 mcg of folic acid a day from food and supplements were 18% less likely to develop high blood pressure, and another study showed that supplements providing at least 500 mcg a day of folic acid lowered the risk of stroke by 18%.
On the negative side a recent study reported that people receiving at least 1,000 mcg of supplemental folic acid a day were more likely to develop pre- cancerous colon polyps than people on the placebo. Another study reported that women consuming over 1,000 mcg of folic acid a day were 32% more likely to develop breast cancer than women consuming around 250 mcg of folic acid a day.
Of course, this study is in obvious contrast to the study showing that 400 mcg of folic acid per day decreased the risk of breast cancer by 44%.
Because of this sort of conflict between studies, it is clear that more studies need to be done before we can be sure that high dose folic acid has any detrimental effects.
But even if high dose folic acid has detrimental effects, what would this mean to you?
It is yet another example of the recent paradigm shift from the “magic bullet” approach to a holistic approach to supplementation.
In the 60s, 70s and 80s whenever an article appeared showing a beneficial role for a particular nutrient in reducing the risk of a certain disease, it would inevitably be followed by recommendations to take high potency supplements containing that nutrient.
Now we know that those recommendations can be counterproductive, possibly even dangerous.
Most likely, this is because a single nutrient at high doses can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb and utilize other, similar nutrients.
Thus, a high potency supplement containing a single nutrient can actually create deficiencies of other essential nutrients.
For folic acid my recommendation is to get no more than 400 mcg of folic acid per day from supplements unless that folic acid is in balance with all of the other essential B vitamins.
We have heard similar reports in recent years about the potential side effects of high dose pure alpha- tocopheral and high dose pure beta-carotene.
Many experts now recommend no more than 200 IU per day of alpha-tocopherol unless it is provided in balance with all of the other naturally-occuring tocopherols and tocotrienols or no more than 2,500 IU of beta- carotene unless it is provided in balance with the other carotenoids and fat soluble antioxidant nutrients.
Thank you Dr Chaney for your perspective.