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Researchers probe risks, benefits of folic acid fortification

BOSTON Since the institution of nationwide folic acid fortification of enriched grains in the mid 1990s, the number of infants born in the United States and Canada with neural tube defects has declined by 20 percent to 50 percent. Concurrent with the institution of fortification, however, the rate at which new cases of colorectal cancer were diagnosed in men and women increased, report researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (USDA HNRCA) at Tufts University. Joel Mason, MD, director of the USDA HNRCAs Vitamins and Carcinogenesis Laboratory, and colleagues analyze the temporal association between folic acid fortification and the rise in colorectal cancer rates, and present their resulting hypothesis in an article in the July issue of Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention.

Nationwide fortification of enriched grains is generally considered one of the greatest advances in public health policy, says Mason, who is also an associate professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts. But since the time that the food supply in North America was fortified with folic acid, we have been experiencing four to six additional cases of colorectal cancer for every 100,000 individuals each year compared to the trends that existed before fortification.

Our analysis suggests that this increase is not explained by chance or by increased cancer screening. Therefore, it is important to analyze risks and benefits of fortification, and encourage scientific debate in countries that are considering instituting or enhancing folic acid fortification.

Mason and colleagues analyzed data from national cancer registries, one in the United States and another in Canada. The US data were derived from the nationwide Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) registry that publishes cancer occurrence rates and survival data, covering approximately 26 percent of the population. The Canadian data
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Contact: Siobhan Gallagher
siobhan.gallagher@tufts.edu
617-636-6586
Tufts University, Health Sciences
10-Jul-2007


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