Folate May Interact With Alcohol to Help Protect Women from Oral Cancer

Women who consume a diet high in folate, a water-soluble B vitamin that occurs naturally in food, might be protecting themselves against developing oral cancer, even if they drink alcohol, according to a recent study.

Folate-rich foods include leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits and juices and dried legumes (including beans and peas). In addition, many foods are also enriched with folic acid, a synthetic form of folate—including breads, cereals, flours, corn meals, pastas, rice and other grain products.

Folate is essential for cell growth and is essential for pregnant and breastfeeding women, those who drink alcohol and those with kidney or liver disease or anemia.
Use of alcohol and tobacco greatly increase a person’s risk for developing oral cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, oral cancer strikes an estimated 34,360 Americans each year. An estimated 7,550 people (5,180 men and 2,370 women) died of these cancers in 2007.

More than 87,600 women in the Nurses’ Health Study were followed from 1980 to 2006. During the period of the study, 147 oral cancer cases were reported and confirmed.

Researchers from Columbia University and Harvard examined data on alcohol intake and diet from self-reported food frequency questionnaires every four years. Scientists discovered a significant interaction between alcohol and folate intakes. Those with high alcohol and low folate intakes were three times more likely to develop oral cancer compared to nondrinkers with low folate intakes. Drinkers with high folate intakes show a reduced risk for oral cancer.

Your dentist performs oral cancer screenings as a routine part of a dental examination. Regular checkups are essential in the early detection of cancerous and pre-cancerous conditions since only half of all patients diagnosed with oral cancer survive more than five years.

For detailed information about the importance of early detection, oral cancer facts you should know and additional resources, visit

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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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