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Diet & Health : Children & Women Last Updated: Apr 20, 2011 - 9:38:09 AM

Too much folate can do more harm than good
By Ben Wasserman
Dec 3, 2008 - 12:11:03 PM

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Wednesday Dec 3, 2008 ( – As always, the more does not mean the better when it comes to the functions of vitamins.  Taking folate supplements during the first trimester of pregnancy may increase risk of wheeze and lower respiratory tract infections in the babies during the first 18 months of life, according to a new study.

Women are often advised to increase their intake of folic acid or folate during their childbearing years to minimize the risk of congenital malformations or birth defects in their offspring, Dr. Siri E. Haberg and colleagues said in their report published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.  In the United States and Canada, fortification of folate or folic acid in flours is mandated.

The study involved 32,000 children born between 200 and 2005 who participated in the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort.  Survey data showed that 22.3 percent of mothers used folate supplements in the first trimester and 42.6 percent used supplements throughout the entire pregnancy.  European countries are reluctant to mandate fortification of folic acid because of possible side effects.

The researchers found that babies born to mothers who used folate supplements during the first trimester were 6 percent more likely to experience wheeze, 9 percent more likely to have lower respiratory tract infections and 24 percent more likely to be admitted to hospitals for lower respiratory tract infections during the first 18 months compared to those who were not exposed to folate supplements during the first trimester.

Folate is found abundant in vegetables and beans and added to juices and cereals in the U.S. and Canada to increase women's intake of this vitamin in hopes that it decreases the risk of congenital malformations or birth defects in their offspring.  Because it is found naturally in foods, the mandatory fortification is subject to debate after "side effects" were reported although studies have linked supplementation to low incidence of birth defects.

French researchers Vidailhet M and colleagues from hôpital d'Enfants CHU de Nancy, 54130 Nancy, France published a review in the July 2008 issue of Archive of Pediatrics saying that several researchers papers reported that an increased risk of colorectal and breast cancer were found in individuals with high serum folate levels and those who used folic acid supplements.

In the United States and Canada, according to a study cited by the authors, the downward trend in incidence of colorectal cancer was reversed one year after the beginning of cereal folic acid fortification.

Vidailhet and team also said two studies have linked folate with impaired cognitive functions in elder people with defective vitamin B(12) statusStudies on harmful effects of folate have been reported early at

The safest way to have adequate intake of folate is to use high amounts of green vegetables and beans, a health observer suggested.

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