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Systems Biology, Functional Medicine, and Folates

Jeffrey Bland, PhD, FACN, FACB

Human biology is often not as simple as it seems on the surface. This is certainly the case with folates and their relationship to disease prevention. During the decades from the 1960s through the 1980s, Smithells made the discovery that folic acid was important in the prevention of neural tube defects in babies,1 Butterworth made the observation that folic acid was important in the prevention of cervical dysplasia,2 and McCully reported that folic acid was an important nutrient for the prevention of atherosclerosis associated with elevated homocysteine.3 These 3 observations redefined the clinical importance of folate nutrition from that of a vitamin that was important in hematology for the prevention of anemia to a state of importance in many subspecialties of medicine from obstetrics and gynecology to neurology and cardiology. More recently, epidemiological evidence has associated low-folate diets with an increased risk of colorectal neoplasia and colorectal cancer.4

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