Vitamin deficiency seen in 1 in 10 older Britons can cause ‘DNA damage and lead to cancer’

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Cancer statistics make for grim reading. Hundreds of thousands of Britons are diagnosed with cancer every year, with more than a third diagnosed after being rushed to hospital, a recent UCL study found. While cancer seems omnipotent, there are proven ways to modify your risk.

It would be wise to make sure your folate levels are healthy.

Folate is an essential water-soluble B vitamin found in foods, including dark-green leafy vegetables and legumes.

According to a 2002 review published in the journal Nature, folate deficiency is a cause of cancer.

The review said it can “cause DNA damage and lead to cancer”.

This claim has not been thrown out in the intervening decades.

Indeed, a 2018 review published in the journal Current Nutrition Reports concluded “low or deficient folate status is associated with increased risk of many cancers”.

The NHS echoes this assessment. The health body says: “Research has shown that folate deficiency can increase your risk of some cancers, such as colon cancer.”

Worryingly, folate deficiency is surprisingly common.

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According to the NHS, it’s more common in older people, affecting around one in 10 people aged 75 or over and one in 20 people aged 65 to 74.

Folic acid tablets are used to restore folate levels but general folate supplementation may land you into trouble too.

Over-consumption of folic acid supplements may also risk of some cancers.

A study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association found Heart patients in Norway who took folic acid and vitamin B12 supplements were found to have a slightly increased risk for cancer and death from all causes, compared to heart patients who did not take the supplements.

Study researcher Marta Ebbing, MD, of Norway’s Haukeland University Hospital and colleagues analysed data from two studies that included almost 7,000 heart patients treated with B vitamin supplements or placebo for an average of three and one-half years between 1998 and 2005.

During treatment, blood folate levels among patients who took 0.8 milligrams a day of folic acid plus 0.4 milligrams a day of vitamin B12 increased more than sixfold.

The patients were followed for an average of three years after supplementation ended, during which time 341 patients who took folic acid and B12 (10 percent) and 288 patients who did not (8.4 percent) were diagnosed with cancer.

Folic acid and B12 supplementation was associated with a 21 percent increased risk for cancer, a 38 percent increased risk for dying from the disease, and an 18 percent increase in deaths from all causes.

This finding was mainly driven by an increase in lung cancer incidence among the folic acid and B12-treated patients.

Seventy-five (32 percent) of the 236 cancer-related deaths among the study participants were due to lung cancer, and the cancer incidence among the study group was 25 percent higher than in the population of Norway as a whole.

Roughly 70 percent of all the patients in the study were either current or former smokers, including more than 90 percent of those who developed lung cancer.

In a statement issued in response to the study, a spokesman for the supplement-industry trade association Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) noted that the lung cancer finding has not been seen in other studies.

“The real headline of this study should be that smoking increases the risk of lung cancer — the study found that a total of 94 percent of the subjects who developed lung cancer were either current or former smokers,” CRN Vice President for Scientific and Regulatory Affairs Andrew Shao, PhD, said in a news release.

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