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Life Extension Magazine

LE Magazine January 1999

As We See It


The FDA versus Folic Acid
Does agency suppression constitute a scientific endorsement?

image In this issue of Life Extension magazine, readers will learn about two life-saving therapies that the Food and Drug Administration has spent enormous resources trying to keep from Americans. In addition, a brief look at the folic acid issue provides further insight into how this bureaucracy makes life-and-death determinations.

The FDA argues against folic acid supplementation because the presence of folic acid in the blood could mask a serious vitamin B12 deficiency. But The Journal of the American Medical Association (Dec. 18, 1996) noted that folic acid supplements fortified with vitamin B12 would be a prudent way of gaining the cardiovascular benefits of folic acid without risking a B12 deficiency. In addition, the April 9, 1998, issue of The New England Journal of Medicine endorses folic acid as a means of reducing the incidence of heart attack and stroke. Nevertheless, the FDA refuses to accept that folic acid has any benefit other than preventing a certain type of birth defect.

In fact, it took the FDA more than 30 years to even acknowledge that folic acid prevents neural tube birth defects. Tens of thousands of deformed babies have been born because the FDA prohibited claims that pregnant women should take folic acid. When former Commissioner David Kessler was confronted with overwhelming evidence that women of child-bearing age should supplement with folic acid, he responded in an NBC interview, "The quandary we're in at the Food and Drug Administration is how to make folic acid available to women of child-bearing age, but not put it in excessive amounts in the food supply for other populations such as teenage boys or elderly people."

A newly released study shows just how fatally flawed the FDA's position is. Data from the famous Nurses' Health Study conducted at the Harvard Medical School show that long-term supplementation with folic acid reduces the risk of colon cancer in women by an astounding 75%. The fact that there are 90,000 women participating in the study makes this finding especially significant. The authors explain that folic acid obtained from supplements had a stronger protective effect against colon cancer than folic acid consumed in the diet. This study also helps to confirm the work of Dr. Bruce Ames, the famous molecular biologist who has authored numerous articles showing that folic acid is extremely effective in preventing the initial dna mutations that can lead to cancer later in life.

The Nurses' Health Study also demonstrates that the degree of protection against cancer is correlated with how long a dna-protecting substance (such as folic acid) is consumed. The women who took more than 400 micrograms of folic acid a day for 15 years experienced the 75% reduction in colon cancer; short-term supplementation produced only marginal protection.

There now exists a massive body of evidence that supplementation with folic acid can prevent both cardiovascular disease and cancer, yet the FDA has proposed rules that would prohibit the American public from even learning about these benefits. Colon cancer will kill 47,000 Americans this year. Too bad the FDA didn't allow these colon cancer victims to learn of folic acid in time.


William Faloon
Vice President
Life Extension Foundation

Further Reading

Folate prevents colon cancer:
Annals of Internal Medicine, 1998; 129:517-524

Folate prevents cardiovascular disease:
JAMA, 1993, Dec 8: 2693-2698 & 2726-2727

Folate protects against dna damage:
Proc of the Nat Academy of Sciences, 1997 94(7):3290-5

Folate protects against dna damage:
Baillieres Clinical Hematology, 1995, 8(3):461-78

Folate protects against birth defects:
Folates and the Fetus. Lancet, Feb 26, 1977, p 462

Folate metabolism in pregnancy:
Am J Obstetrics and Gynecology, 1967 99:638-648

Folate deficiency & oral contraceptives:
JAMA, 1970 214:105-108, 1970

Folate deficiency in mental patients:
British J Psychiatry 113:241-251, 1967