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Folate fortification may boost breast cancer risk

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By David Liu, PHD

Saturday July 21, 2012 (foodconsumer.org) -- Folate as a food supplement may increase risk of breast cancer in women who also have  high intake of nitrate, according to a new study in the journal Nutrition and Cancer.

The study led by Maki Inoue-Choi of University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Minnesota and colleagues showed that in the whole study population, folate intake was not associated with breast cancer risk in women from the Iowa Women's Health Study, which enrolled 34,388 postmenopausal women of whom, 2,875 were diagnosed with breast cancer during the study.

However, it did find that among women who had 400 ug per day of folate, those whose nitrate intake was in the highest quintile were 40 percent increased risk for breast cancer compared to those who had lowest intake of nitrate. The association was found among both public drinking water users and private water users. 

Ingested nitrate can be endogenously concerted into nitrite, which may form N-nitroso amines, known potential carcinogens.  But the current study suggests that the carcinogenic effect of nitrate is significant among women who also had high intake of folate.
The researchers did not find an association between nitrate intake and the risk of breast cancer among women who had low folate intake.

Nitrate and nitrite are commonly used to preserve processed meat products such as hot dogs, luncheon meat, sausages, hams and bacon.  

Folate is commonly added in foods like wheat flour and wheat flour based products like pasta, bread, and cookies.  Folate is added in foods because some people believe that it can help reduce risk of birth defects.  

Recent studies have found that added folate, not naturally occurring folate found in green vegetables like kale, spinach, and broccoli, is linked with increased risk of breast cancer.

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