Folate, Cancer Risk, and the Greek God, Proteus: A Tale of Two Chameleons

Nutr Rev. 2009 Apr;67(4):206-12. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2009.00190.x.


Evidence indicates that an abundant intake of foodstuffs rich in folate conveys protection against the development of colorectal cancer, and perhaps some other common cancers as well. The issue is complex, however, since some observations in animal and human studies demonstrate that an overly abundant intake of folate among those who harbor existing foci of neoplasia might instead produce a paradoxical promotion of tumorigenesis. The pharmaceutical form of the vitamin, folic acid, might affect the process in a manner that is distinct from natural forms of the vitamin, although this remains a speculative concept. Our limited understanding of this complex relationship is impeding efforts to move ahead with widespread folic acid fortification, but this delay may be necessary to ensure that such programs are instituted in a safe manner.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Colorectal Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Folic Acid / administration & dosage*
  • Folic Acid / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Risk Factors
  • Vitamin B Complex / administration & dosage*
  • Vitamin B Complex / adverse effects*


  • Vitamin B Complex
  • Folic Acid