Nutritionists once associated low levels of folic acid-a B vitamin found in fruits and leafy green vegetables-primarily with birth defects. But in recent years, epidemiological studies have established more correlations between folate deficiency and heart disease, cancer, and brain damage. Now, researchers are discovering mechanisms that may explain how folate deficiency contributes to these health problems.

BRAIN CONNECTION: Berkeley's Bruce Ames thinks chromosome breaks caused by folate deficiency could cause brain damage.
One study out of the University of California, Berkeley, shows that a low-folate diet can cause nicks in genes, resulting in chromosome breaks (B.C. Blount et al., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 94:3290-5, 1997). Those chromosome breaks could contribute to cancer and other diseases.

When the cell lacks enough folate to synthesize thymine, its biochemical precursor, uracil, builds up in the cell's DNA instead. Then the cell's repair mechanisms remove the uracil, resulting in nicks. "When...

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