Folate May Protect Against Ovarian Cancer

Eating Folate-Rich Foods May Lower Risk, Especially in Women Who Drink Alcohol

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March 2, 2004 -- Bulking up on folate-rich foods may help women lower their risk of ovarian cancer, especially if they drink alcohol regularly.

Swedish researchers found that women who drank about two drinks per week had a 74% lower risk of ovarian cancer if they also ate a folate-rich diet compared with women who got the least amount of folate from foods in their diet.

Folate is a water-soluble form of vitamin B that is found naturally in green vegetables, citrus fruits, and whole grains. Cereals and dietary supplements contain a synthetic form of folate called folic acid.

Researchers say that previous studies have already shown that low levels of folate many increase the risk of other cancers, such as breast and colorectal cancer, especially among alcohol drinkers.

Folate Fights Ovarian Cancer

In the study, published in the March 3 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers followed ovarian cancer rates and folate intake from food sources among a group of more than 61,000 women aged 38-76 who were free of cancer when the study began.

After more than 13 years of follow up, the study showed that higher folate intake was weakly associated with a lower risk of ovarian cancer. But there was a much stronger association among women who drank more than 20 grams of alcohol or about two drinks per week.

Among these women, those who ate the most folate had a 74% lower risk of ovarian cancer than those who ate the least. But there was no such reduction in risk among women who drank less than two drinks per week.

Researchers say more studies are needed to determine if these results apply to other groups of women that have higher folate intake levels and if use of folic acid supplements might have the same protective effect against ovarian cancer.

"In the meantime, it may be prudent to increase folate intakes from folate-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, legumes, and whole grain," write researcher Susanna C. Larsson of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, and colleagues.

"However, it may be premature to recommend increasing folate intake for the whole population through the use of dietary supplements because [extremely high] levels of folate might enhance cancer progression among those with existing yet undiagnosed cancer."

SOURCE: Larsson, S. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, March 3, 2004; vol 96: pp 396-402.

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