Folic Acid Eating Mother Protects Children From Colon Cancer

in environment, medicine, biology

Can folic acid prevent cancer? Colon cancer usually catches up with age; you are at a higher risk if older than 60.  A new study shows that mothers who eat folic acid during pregancy and breast feeding can protect offsprings from colon cancer. 

Folic acid is also known as vitamin B9,  folacin and folate. Folate is the naturally occurring form of folic acid. It's chemical names are pteroyl-L-glutamic acid, pteroyl-L-glutamate, and pteroylmonoglutamic acid. The biological significance of folic acid is due to tetrahydrofolate and other derivatives after its conversion to dihydrofolic acid in the body.

Folic acid supplements given to pregnant and breast-feeding rats reduced the rate of colon cancer in their offspring by 64 per cent, the study has found.

The research, led by Dr. Young-in Kim, a gastroenterologist at St. Michael's Hospital, adds to the growing but sometimes contradictory evidence that folic acid supplementation during pregnancy and lactation can increase or decrease the development or progression of some pediatric malignancies and common cancers in their offspring in adulthood.

For example, a separate study by Kim published in February found the daughters of rats who were given folic acid supplements before conception, during pregnancy and while breast-feeding have breast cancer rates twice as high as other rats who were not given the supplements. They also had more tumours and developed them at a faster rate.

Kim said these studies collectively suggest that folic acid may have drastically different effects on cancer development in different organs, that specific organs may have different needs for folate, its natural form, or metabolize it differently. He said more studies, including human studies, were needed.

Colon cancer may be associated with a high-fat, low-fiber diet and red meat. Kim's new study, published in Gut, a leading international journal in gastroenterology, is the first to find that folic acid supplements at the level ingested by North American women of childbearing age "significantly protects against the development of colorectal cancer in the offspring."

Folate is known to help make DNA and help it replicate.

"It appears that giving folic acid during pregnancy and lactation reduces DNA damage and suppresses the proliferation of cells in the colon," Kim said. "It actually increases the stability of the DNA and this might be one of the mechanisms of how folic acid in utero may protect against colon cancer."

The amount of folic acid to which fetuses are exposed has increased dramatically in North America in the past decade. Natural folate is found in grains and dark, leafy vegetables. Women are routinely advised to take folic acid supplements before becoming pregnant and while pregnant to prevent neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida.

Since 1998, the Canadian and U.S. governments have required food manufacturers to add folic acid to white flour, enriched pasta and cornmeal products as a way of ensuring women receive enough of the B vitamin. In addition, up to 40 per cent of North Americans take folic acid supplements for possible but as yet unproven health benefits.

The Experiment:  Female rats were placed on a control or supplemental (2.5× the control) diet prior to mating and during pregnancy and lactation. At weaning, male pups from each maternal diet group were randomised to the control or supplemental diet (n=55 per each of the four maternal/pup diet groups) for 31 weeks and colorectal cancer was induced by azoxymethane at 5 weeks of age. At necropsy, colorectal cancer parameters as well as colorectal epithelial proliferation, apoptosis and global DNA methylation were determined in the offspring.

Result:  Maternal, but not postweaning, folic acid supplementation significantly reduced the odds of colorectal adenocarcinoma by 64% in the offspring (OR 0.36; 95% CI 0.18 to 0.71; p=0.003). Pups from the dams fed the control diet that were given postweaning folic acid supplementation had significantly higher tumour multiplicity and burden than other groups (p<0.05). Maternal and postweaning folic acid supplementation interacted in a manner that decreased rectal epithelial proliferation (p<0.05). Both maternal and postweaning folic acid supplementation significantly decreased DNA damage in the rectum (p<0.05). Maternal folic acid supplementation significantly increased (p=0.007), whereas postweaning supplementation significantly decreased (p<0.001), colorectal global DNA methylation.

Source Article: Effect of maternal and postweaning folic acid supplementation on colorectal cancer risk in the offspring
Karen K Y Sie, Alan Medline, Jacobine van Weel, Kyoung-Jin Sohn, Sang-Woon Choi, Ruth Croxford, Young-In Kim
Gut 2011;Published Online First: 11 May 2011 doi:10.1136/gut.2011.238782.

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