Folate for Cervical Dysplasia

Moving away from the antioxidant connection, let’s turn our attention to a vitamin that appears to have a very important role in preventing the development of dysplasia. Research shows that, as one’s intake of folate-rich foods decreases, the risk of cervical dysplasia increases. An American study found that women consuming less than 400 micrograms of folate each day were 2.6 times more likely to develop dysplasia than women who consumed more than 400 micrograms.8

A lack of this B vitamin may promote the development of dysplasia in a number of ways. Folate may act in some way to protect cervical cells. Studies have found that many women with dysplasia have normal blood levels of folate but low levels of the vitamin in cervical tissue. A deficiency of folate may also enhance the harmful effect of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection on cervical cells.

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Folate is critical for the synthesis of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), the genetic material of cells. Low levels of folate in cervical tissue can make cellular DNA more susceptible to damage. Even a marginal folate deficiency can cause damage to DNA in cells, damage that resembles cervical dysplasia. It is possible that this alteration to DNA is an early step in the progression of cervical dysplasia and cervical cancer. Furthermore, this damage to a cell’s genetic material may be stopped or reversed if you are given supplements of the B vitamin. In fact, two trials have found that folic acid supplements improved dysplasia in women taking birth control pills.9 However, trials conducted in women not taking oral contraceptives did not find folic acid supplements to alter the course of dysplasia. The researchers concluded that a deficiency of the B vitamin may be involved in the initiation of dysplasia but, once you have the disease, supplements do not appear to reverse it.

What these studies suggest is that getting enough folate every day is an important strategy in the prevention of cervical dysplasia. See how much folate women should be striving for every day in the RDA table on page 6 in chapter 1. Be sure to choose whole-grain breads, cereals and pasta more often than refined grain foods. While refined grain products are enriched with folic acid in the United States and Canada, whole grains provide more. For more folate-rich foods, see the Folate in Foods table on page 7 of chapter 1.

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