December 11, 2004
New media storm has no basis in the scientific data. To the long list of cheap and trashy attacks on dietary supplements another one can be added for folic acid, which is a recent hit-and-run victim of the Danish newspaper B.T. with its screaming headline: ”Supplement can cause cancer.”
To make such a sensational claim, this tabloid ignored the authors’ very clear statement that it may only be a statistical fluke. But we have seen this kind of cut-and-slash media coverage before.
The article actually covers an old study from 1967, which was dug up from its grave and published in the British Medical Journal.  It seems that some 3,000 women participated in this study, which was not double-blind controlled.
Instead, the supplements were given to the subjects using six different tablets, separately colored, and taken from numbered drawers. Of these 3,000 women, 31 died from breast cancer during the 37 years that had passed, and of these 31, 6 women got 0.2 mg folic acid, 8 got 5 mg folic acid, and 17 got a placebo.
Clearly, no statistical certainty follows from this result, which means that it may only be an accidental incident. The study was supported financially by the pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline.
As mentioned, the authors themselves stated that the result may be accidental.
Many earlier scientific studies had shown the contrary to be true. In fact, the official comment by the professors Oakley and Mandel in the British Medical Journal  clearly dissociates them from the media-sensationalized conclusion, when they write that these earlier studies taken together actually demonstrate that higher supplementation of folic acid would decrease, rather than increase, the risk of cancer.
Furthermore, they draw attention to the fact that every single year folic-acid enrichment of American foods alone saves more people from blood clots in the brain and heart than the number of people dying from traffic accidents in the USA.
Be wary of this study, which is old. Its proponents are trying to have their cake and eat it too because when old scientific studies speak of the benefits of dietary supplements or natural medicine, they are often accused of being based upon an ”old standard,” and of not ”living up to the present standard.”
In decency the same can be said about old studies that are negative towards dietary supplements. These days a lot are dragged out from the old moth bag.
The problem is not so much these old studies, as it is the media, which smell sensationalism and thereby frighten the population from taking these supplements that are so important, when taken properly. But proper use demands information, and the population is not allowed to be informed.
By: Vitality Council
1. Charles D, Ness AD, Campbell D, Smith GD, Hall MH. Taking folate in pregnancy and risk of maternal breast cancer. BMJ 2004:329:1375-6.
2. Ockley GP, Mandel JS. Commentary: Folic acid fortification remains an urgent health priority. BMJ 2004;349;1376.