Will mandatory folic acid fortification prevent or promote cancer?

Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Nov;80(5):1123-8. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/80.5.1123.


An overwhelming body of evidence for a protective effect of periconceptional folic acid supplementation against neural tube defects (NTDs) led to mandatory folic acid fortification in the United States. The effectiveness of folic acid fortification in improving folate status has already been shown to be quite striking, with a dramatic increase in blood measurements of folate in the United States. Preliminary reports also suggest a significant reduction ( approximately 15-50%) in NTDs in the United States. The success of folic acid fortification in improving folate status and in reducing NTD rates is truly a public health triumph and provides a paradigm of collaboration between science and public health policy. Although folic acid is generally regarded as safe, there continues to be concern that folic acid fortification may have adverse effects in subpopulation groups not originally targeted for fortification. In this regard, an emerging body of evidence suggests that folic acid supplementation may enhance the development and progression of already existing, undiagnosed premalignant and malignant lesions. Over the past few years, the US population has been exposed to a significant increase in folate intake, for which essentially no data on safety exist. The potential cancer-promoting effect of folic acid supplementation needs to be considered in carefully monitoring the long-term effect of folic acid fortification on the vast majority of the US population, who are not at risk of NTDs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA Methylation / drug effects
  • Folic Acid* / administration & dosage
  • Folic Acid* / adverse effects
  • Folic Acid* / therapeutic use
  • Food, Fortified
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Neural Tube Defects / prevention & control*


  • Folic Acid