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J Nutr. 2017 Sep;147(9):1677-1685. doi: 10.3945/jn.117.247445. Epub 2017 Jul 19.

A Daily Dose of 5 mg Folic Acid for 90 Days Is Associated with Increased Serum Unmetabolized Folic Acid and Reduced Natural Killer Cell Cytotoxicity in Healthy Brazilian Adults.

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Departments of Clinical and Toxicological Analysis and.
Hematology and Blood Transfusion Division, Federal University of Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Food and Experimental Nutrition, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil.
National Center for Environmental Health, CDC, Atlanta, GA; and.
Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, UC Davis School of Medicine, Sacramento, CA.
Departments of Clinical and Toxicological Analysis and


Background: The effects of high-dose folic acid (FA) supplementation in healthy individuals on blood folate concentrations and immune response are unknown.Objective: The aim of the study was to evaluate the effects of daily consumption of a tablet containing 5 mg FA on serum folate; number and cytotoxicity of natural killer (NK) cells; mRNA expression of dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR), methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR), interferon γ (IFNG), tumor necrosis factor α (TNFA), and interleukin 8 (IL8) genes; and concentrations of serum inflammatory markers.Methods: This prospective clinical trial was conducted in 30 healthy Brazilian adults (15 women), aged 27.7 y (95% CI: 26.4, 29.1 y), with a body mass index (in kg/m2) of 23.1 (95% CI: 22.0, 24.3). Blood was collected at baseline and after 45 and 90 d of the intervention. Serum folate concentrations were measured by microbiological assay and HPLC-tandem mass spectrometry [folate forms, including unmetabolized folic acid (UMFA)]. We used real-time polymerase chain reaction to assess mononuclear leukocyte mRNA expression and flow cytometry to measure the number and cytotoxicity of NK cells.Results: Serum folate concentrations increased by ∼5-fold after the intervention (P < 0.001), and UMFA concentrations increased by 11.9- and 5.9-fold at 45 and 90 d, respectively, when compared with baseline (P < 0.001). UMFA concentrations increased (>1.12 nmol/L) in 29 (96.6%) participants at day 45 and in 26 (86.7%) participants at day 90. We observed significant reductions in the number (P < 0.001) and cytotoxicity (P = 0.003) of NK cells after 45 and 90 d. Compared with baseline, DHFR mRNA expression was higher at 90 d (P = 0.006) and IL8 and TNFA mRNA expressions were higher at 45 and 90 d (P = 0.001 for both).Conclusion: This noncontrolled intervention showed that healthy adults responded to a high-dose FA supplement with increased UMFA concentrations, changes in cytokine mRNA expression, and reduced number and cytotoxicity of NK cells. This trial was registered at as RBR-2pr7zp.


5-methyl-THF; NK cell cytotoxicity; folic acid supplementation; mRNA expression; serum folate; unmetabolized folic acid

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Conflict of interest statement

Author disclosures: CP, JFB, MRL, EDC, PMdSA, GWG, CZP, MSF, CMP, ZF, RG, and EMG-S, no conflicts of interest.

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