Unmetabolized folic acid in plasma is associated with reduced natural killer cell cytotoxicity among postmenopausal women

Aron M. Troen, Breeana Mitchell, Bess Sorensen, Mark H. Wener, Abbey Johnston, Brent Wood, Jacob Selhub, Anne McTiernan, Yutaka Yasui, Evrim Oral, John D. Potter, Cornelia M. Ulrichy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

366 Scopus citations


Folic acid (FA) supplements and food fortification are used to prevent neural tube defects and to lower plasma homocysteine. Through exposure to food fortification and vitamin supplement use, large populations in the United States and elsewhere have an unprecedented high FA intake. We evaluated dietary and supplemental intakes of folate and FA in relation to an index of immune function, natural killer cell (NK) cytotoxicity, among 105 healthy, postmenopausal women. Among women with a diet low in folate (<233 μg/d), those who used FA-containing supplements had significantly greater NK cytotoxicity (P = 0.01). However, those who consumed a folate-rich diet and in addition used FA supplements > 400 μg/d had reduced NK cytotoxicity compared with those consuming a low-folate diet and no supplements (P = 0.02). Prompted by this observation, we assessed the presence of unmetabolized FA in plasma as a biochemical marker of excess FA. Unmetabolized folic acid was detected in 78% of plasma samples from fasting participants. We found an inverse relation between the presence of unmetabolized FA in plasma and NK cytotoxicity. NK cytotoxicity was ∼23% lower among women with detectable folic acid (P = 0.04). This inverse relation was stronger among women ≥ 60 y old and more pronounced with increasing unmetabolized FA concentrations (P-trend = 0.002). Because of the increased intake of FA in many countries, our findings highlight the need for further studies on the effect of long-term high FA intake on immune function and health.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)189-194
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Nutrition
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Carcinogenesis
  • Folic acid
  • Immune function
  • Natural killer cells


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