Abnormal Pap Smears or Cervical Dysplasia? Reach for Folic Acid, Folate
The connection between Folic Acid (Folate) deficiency and Neural Tubal Defects (NTDs) in newborns was first realized in the early 1980s; hence the recommendation that all pregnant women take a supplement of Folic Acid during pregnancy to prevent spina bifida. As the risk of developing spina bifida occurs before most women know they are pregnant (usually within the first 3 weeks after conception), the Food and Drug Administration, in 1996, began to require Folic Acid be added to “enriched” foods, such as breads, pastas, and cereals in an attempt to decrease the incidences of spina bifida and other Neural Tubal Defects (Wikipedia, 2012).
With these interventions, the number of babies born with NTDs has decreased. It is estimated by the Centers for Disease Control (2010) that 3,000 children are born with NTDs annually; but 50% to 70% of these could have been prevented if the mothers had taken a supplement of at least 400 mcg of Folate during pregnancy.
A recent discovery has shown, however, that women, as a whole, are getting enough Folate to prevent NTDs, but they are still NOT getting enough to help with other health issues, most notably Cervical Dysplasia (also called an “abnormal pap smear”), the precursor to cervical cancer. According to Dr. Stanley J. Swierzewski III (2011), between 250,000 and 1 million women are diagnosed with Cervical Dysplasia each year.
What is Cervical Dysplasia
Cervical Dysplasia is a diagnosis given to women who have an abnormal pap smear. When a woman gets a pap smear, cells from the cervix are scraped off and sent to a lab for analysis. If they look abnormal, the diagnosis of Cervical Dysplasia is given.
While having abnormal cervical cells is not harmful, the medical community feels these cells are precursors for a woman developing cervical cancer-their presence increases the risk of developing this cancer. According to Dr. Swierzewski (2011), nearly 70% of these cases regress without becoming an issue, without developing into cancer.
The general treatment is to have another pap smear in 6 months and to watch and wait. If the cells become cervical cancer in situ (an early cancer), then action is taken. It may take up to 10 years for this to occur.
What has been overlooked is that Folic Acid is essential for cervical health.
Folic Acid-What is it?
Folic Acid, also called Folate, is a B-vitamin, B-9 to be exact, but it is not called a B-vitamin; you will find it as Folic Acid for Folate.
One of the properties of Folate is that it protects the cells against changes to the DNA and RNA that could cause cancer. Areas of the body that replicate cells often are at a higher risk for the development of cancer; when a cell replicates, it duplicates the genetic code of one cell then makes two. Cancer occurs when this duplication process does not go right. Cells are supposed to make an exact copy of itself; cancer occurs when the cells do not make an exact duplicate.
Folic Acid ensures that the duplication process is exact.
One of the areas where there is a high turnover of cells is the cervix. As a note, the intestines are also a site of rapid cell turnover; a deficiency in Folate can lead to inflammatory bowel conditions-commonly found in those with Cervical Dysplasia.
Although the Centers for Disease Control feel the Human Papillomavirus is the leading cause of cervical cancer (and hence created the HPV Vaccine), incidences of Cervical Dysplasia has not decreased in those who have Folate deficiency even with the vaccine (Cohen, 2011); this was confirmed in a 2009 study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention (Flatley, 2009).
Causes of Folic Acid Deficiency
Next to Iron, Folic Acid deficiency is the second-most common nutrient deficiency in the United States and Canada. As our bodies do not manufacture Folic Acid, it must come from the foods we eat, or from supplementation. Before the FDA made it mandatory that foods be enriched with Folic Acid in 1996 (CDC, 2010), Folate was the leading deficiency.
Even with the enrichment to processed foods, the deficiency rate of Folate is still high. Dietary sources of naturally-occurring Folate are often not a food choice by many families. Add to that, alcohol and tobacco both deplete Folate that is in the body, as is the case with many of the commonly-used medical drugs.
Some of the more common causes of Folic Acid Deficiency:
>>Alcohol & Tobacco: smoking and chewing tobacco deplete Folic Acid in the body; alcohol also depletes Folic Acid stores, but it also interferes with the absorption of Folic Acid from foods eaten.
>>Inadequate Dietary Intake: the common foods that contain high levels of Folic Acid are often not commonly consumed by Americans, most notably liver, spinach, lentils and Brussels Sprouts.
>>Medical Drugs: nearly every medical drug interferes with absorption of Folate, or it depletes it. Several of the classes of drugs that deplete Folate or interfere with its absorption: antibiotics, antacids or acid-blockers, pain medications (all), birth control pills, diuretics, antidepressants, antianxiety drugs, and vidovudine drugs. This is only a partial list.
>>Deficiency in other B-Vitamins: Folate needs other B-Vitamins to make it useful in the body. Two of the most-needed ones are Vitamins B-6 and B-12.
Deficiency is often classified as “Folic Acid Anemia” as Folate is needed by Red Blood Cells, and diagnosis of Folic Acid deficiency is usually seen first in the blood. Most of the symptoms of Folate deficiency are blood-related: pallor, headache, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, weakness, lack of energy, and loss of appetite.
As the deficiency worsens, other symptoms appear: irritability, forgetfulness, depression, confusion, apathy, hostility, paranoia; sore or red tongue; elevated homocysteine levels; diarrhea; and weight loss.
Any level of deficiency can cause Neural Tubal Defects in newborns and increase the risk of developing cancer.
Dietary Sources of Folate
Folic Acid is found in many foods, including asparagus, avocadoes, beets, Brussels Sprouts, cabbage, green leafy vegetables such as spinach, lentils, liver, and wheat germ. It is also an additive in many processed foods in “enriched” products.
The Recommended Daily Allowance for all ages is 400 mcg daily. For pregnant women, it is recommended she should take 1,000 mcg (1 mg) daily.
A harmless side effect of supplementing with Folic Acid is that the urine is often turned a bright yellow. This does not affect health-it is just a change.
As Folic Acid is a water-soluble vitamin that doesn’t store well in the body, it is unlikely that the average person will develop any reaction to supplementing with Folic Acid. However, in those with kidney disease, toxic levels can develop in the form of kidney stones and abdominal cramping.
For those with seizure disorders, taking Folate might make seizures worse.
Also, for those with Pernicious Anemia (a deficiency in Vitamin B-12), Folate may increase the neurological symptoms associated with Pernicious Anemia.
Do not take a Folic Acid supplement without first discussing it with someone knowledgeable in BOTH natural supplements and medical conditions.