Vitamin D and Children’s Allergies

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

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 were 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-tocopherol 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.

My recommendation is to choose supplements that provide all of the essential nutrients in balance – a holistic approach to supplementation.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

About the Author
Dr. Chaney has a BS in Chemistry from Duke University and a PhD in Biochemistry from UCLA. He currently holds the rank of Professor at a major university where runs an active cancer research program and has published over 100 scientific articles and reviews in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
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