Can taking a daily multi be bad for your health? Folic Acid vs Folate.

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So taking vitamins is linked with a higher death risk in older women.  Click on the link and the BBC article can be read. The study was done on 38,000 women in the US in their 50s and 60s and looked at their previous decades of supplement taking – relying on their recall.  And the conclusion reached was that taking multis, folic acid, Vitamin B6, magnesium, zinc, copper and iron in supplemental form caused an increase in the death rate of 2.6%.  Now if we watch the video above, Dr Greger quite humorously talks about the big difference between folic acid and folate, the former being man made and the latter natural.  Actually I am quite surprised the study did not include Vitamin E in its death toll – another favourite of researchers damning supplementation.

And of course, this is the point.  Many people take vitamins and minerals in supplemental form, little realising that they are indeed doing themselves harm.  If we just go to the supermarket or chemist and pick a random multivitamin off the shelf,  we really have to peer very closely at the label and try to work out which of the ingredients are natural and which are man made.  Man made vitamins etc are inevitably cheap and bad for us.

Lets take folic acid.  Studies were done on rats showing that folic acid is converted by the liver into folate – finally someone realised that we aren’t rats and studied the conversion of folic acid to folate in the human liver1 – and found that  the enzyme responsible for conversion has less than 2% of the activity than in the rats’ livers.  This leads to a build up of folic acid in our blood and on to various cancers.  Flour is supplemented with folic acid, so if a lot of wheat products are eaten everyday, this will lead to excessive folic acid levels, even without cheap supplementation on top.  Folate is important in the diet and is indeed found in leafy green vegetables.  It is a vital part of a complex chemical reaction in the body called methylation.  An increasing number of us do not methylate well; this is a genetic defect apparently stemming from the Romans2.  It is a dominant gene, hence why it is increasing.  One controversial symptom of poor methylation is asparagus wee – after eating asparagus, those of us with this gene certainly know about it when we next wee.  And no, not everybody’s wee smells post asparagus. If we have the poor methylation gene, we have a predisposition to horrible diseases such as heart attacks,  dementia, parkinsons, strokes, diabetes, thyroid problems, miscarriages and infertility, and digestive disorders.  The list is depressingly long.  So if this gene is suspected, it is vital that extra folate is taken in the form L5 methyl tetra hydrofolate -this is the body friendly version that needs no methylation ability for it to be succesfully uptaken by the body.  Now many of the women in the study would have the faulty methylation gene and this needs high quality supplementation to overcome.

I have in front of me a list of the ingredients in Sanatogens A-Z Complete.  Apart from the vitamins and minerals, the Sanatogen also includes purified talc, mannitol, sucrose,and the colours E171 and E172 (iron oxide)and maize starch.  Santogens magnesium and zinc are both oxide  – the poorest form and not good for human consumption. The Vitamin E is indeed man made DL alpha tocopherol acetate, the folate present as folic acid and the vitamin A is retinyl acetate as opposed to beta carotene.  It also contains iron which is fine for women who menstruate.  For men and post-menopausal women, there is a problem with iron toxicity caused by too much iron3.  Excess iron causes many health problems.

So the shame is that when studies are published saying supplemental vitamins and minerals are bad for us, the quality of the supplementation is never mentioned.  Low quality multis carry dubious health benefits.  This situation is totally reversed when the best quality of multi is taken. 4


  1. Bailey SW, Ayling JE.  The extremely slow and variable activity of dihydrofolate reductase in human liver and its implications for high folic acid intake.  PNAS Aug 24, 2009.  doi: 10.1073/pnas 0902072106 []
  2. And the french are immune to it… []
  3. If you want to know more, read Iron and your health: Facts and Fallacies.  By Thomas F Emery. []
  4. I have a male client who takes Poliquin’s Multi Intense without iron.  When he first took it, he lost weight and the colour of his feet dramatically improved. []

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