Researchers have tried to link folic acid and HPV, or the human papilloma virus, by claiming that increased dietary intake of folic acid can protect against the development of cancers caused by infection with HPV. In many ways this connection is logical. Folic acid plays an important role in the replication and maintenance of genetic material in the human body. HPV infection promotes the unregulated growth and development of cells in the body, and can lead to cervical cancer. While some studies have shown that folic acid could be protective against the development of cervical cancers, more research is needed before women should be advised to take supplemental folic acid solely in hopes of preventing cervical cancer.
In order to understand the connection between folic acid and HPV, it helps to understand the role that folic acid plays in the human body. Briefly, the substance is considered a vitamin because it has a number of critical functions in the body but must be obtained from food because it cannot be made by the human body itself. Folic acid is broken down into a substance called tetrahydrofolate in the body. In general, tetrahydrofolate plays a role in the synthesis of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the creation of ribonucleic acid (RNA), and the repair of DNA; it does this by transferring groups of atoms called methyl groups between different chemical species. Without enough dietary intake of folate, the creation of new genetic material needed for the making of new cells is impaired.
The next step needed to understand the link between folic acid and HPV is that certain types of HPV play a critical role in the development of cervical cancer. This virus infects the skin and the mucous membranes, and integrates itself into the genetic material of the host cells. Eventually, this results in a proliferation of these cells found in the skin and mucous membranes. Sometimes this cellular reproduction can become unregulated, causing massive overproduction of abnormal cells. This process results in cancer formation.
Some researchers have tried to understand the relationship between folic acid and HPV. Since folic acid plays an important role in the creation and repair of DNA, lack of folate in the diet could result in increased risk of cancer development. Some studies have shown that patients with low amounts of folate in their blood have a higher risk for having persistent infection with HPV, cervical abnormalities that represent precursors to cervical cancer, and cervical cancer itself.
While it seems logical to take folic acid in hopes to prevent having HPV cause cancer in the body, the link between folic acid and HPV is not widely accepted. There is no general recommendation that women should increase their intake of folic acid to prevent cervical cancer. Some other studies have shown that high folic acid intake in certain people could promote the development of non-cervical cancers, so taking supplemental folic acid for cancer prevention is still controversial.