There’s a lot of buzz out in the research world around this topic. Does methylfolate cause cancer? Does it cure cancer? It might surprise you to know that this ‘healthy’ vitamin can actually cause some unwanted symptoms at times. Depending on your health history, some nutrients can actually be harmful for some and helpful for others.
Patterns where things are already going wrong in the body
One condition you may be familiar with is a skin condition called Psoriasis. When a patient has Psoriasis, the body over-produces skin cells and builds excess plaques. Interestingly enough, methotrexate (a chemo drug), can hinder the psoriasis outbreaks because methotrexate slows down the methylation pathway. (Psoriasis tends to use the methylation pathway to get itself going crazy). If you have Psoriasis and you add methylfolate (aka fuel) to your body, you’re most likely going to push the Psoriasis to do even more of what it’s already doing, which is making the excess skin cell plaques at an even faster rate. Consequently, methylfolate can actually have a worsening effect on Psoriasis for some people.
The “C” Word
Let’s go back to the concept of cancer and tumor growth. Understandably, the “C” word tends to put everyone on high alert because we all know someone close to us who has battled it. We may have even battled with it ourselves. It’s an ugly disease that tends to elicit feelings of trauma and possibly some suffering. Before I began my methylfolate journey, I lost my mother to Ovarian Cancer. I know the graveness of its concern at the very core of my being.
There are many theories about where cancer comes from, but at the root of it, most seem to agree that when things go awry in the body with DNA/RNA and/or cellular structure, it can cause our genes to make faulty enzymes. On the other hand, these changes in cellular structure may also hinder our body from making beneficial substances that would otherwise control the abnormal cells. Folate has been shown in studies to help prevent DNA damage. As we just mentioned, cancer can appear when there is DNA damage and abnormal cells begin to grow rapidly. In turn, it could be said that folate may be efficacious in the primary prevention of certain types of cancers. (Some research has been conducted that showed a correlation between folate supplementation and decreased occurrence of colorectal neoplasia).
Additionally, if we avoid synthetic folic acid that we can’t convert into the correct form of folate because we have MTHFR (and we choose to take methylfolate), might we actually be guarding ourselves against some kinds of cancer? Many would say: YES, that’s absolutely true. What the research shows is that timing of supplementation is critical. One study showed that folate administration prior to the existence of preneoplastic lesions could actually prevent tumor development. Additionally, a large number of epidemiological studies have shown that a higher intake of folate, as well as higher intakes of vegetables and fruit, is associated with a decreased risk of colorectal polyps and cancer.
Could taking L-methylfolate be a negative thing for those with pre-existing cancerous lesions?
On the other hand, If you have an active tumor in your body, you may actually be fueling it to grow faster by taking methylfolate. Taking high doses of methylfolate (once early lesions are established) appears to increase tumorigenesis. When cancer already exists in the body, the rapidly proliferating tissues, including tumors, have an increased requirement for nucleotides; thus many cancers up-regulate folate receptors (Ulrich & Potter, 2007). Only an oncologist can best speak to these specifics based on any particular type of cancer, so it is recommended that anyone with cancer talk to their oncologist before taking methylfolate.
In general, Dr. Rawlins’ point of view is this: If you’re in the midst of a chemo treatment that affects the methylation pathway (purposely trying to close it – like methotrexate), you may want to stop taking methylfolate during your treatment time. However, when that treatment is over, you may choose to go back onto the methylfolate.
To Sum It Up
Methylfolate is an amazing nutrient that’s doing great things for so many people in the world today. However, understanding when it’s right to take and when it might not be the very best for your personal health is imperative. Do your research and pay attention to your personal health and your body when you take a nutrient. Listen to the connections that might need to be made between conditions you have and want to see improve, and the options available out there to help yourself.
Williams JD, Jacobson EL, Kim H, Kim M, Jacobson MK. Folate in skin cancer prevention. Subcell Biochem. 2012;56:181–197.Ulrich, Cornelia M., and John D. Potter. “Folate and Cancer—Timing Is Everything.” Jama, vol. 297, no. 21, 2007, p. 2408