New research on UK health data indicated that those with folic acid prescriptions were 1.5 times as likely to get infected with COVID-19 and 2.6 times more likely to die from the infection.

People living in the United Kingdom who were prescribed folic acid were shown to have 1.5 times higher risk of developing COVID-19. In addition, they had a 2.6-fold increased risk of dying from COVID-19 in comparison to the control group. This is what UC Davis Health and the University of Alabama at Birmingham found in a new study.

The study, which was published in the journal BMJ Open, also discovered that taking methotrexate, an antifolate medication, while taking folic acid also had a positive effect on COVID-19.

The study included a large cohort of individuals who were enrolled in the UK BioBank, a massive biomedical database comprising health information from over 500,000 people.

As explained by Ralph Green, co-senior author of the study: “We examined whether COVID-19 diagnosis and death were related to the large doses of folic acid — five times the safe upper limit — prescribed to patients for a variety of medically approved indications. 

“We found that the risk of becoming infected and dying from COVID-19 was significantly greater in the group treated with folic acid.”

COVID-19 and Folic Acid

Folic acid is a man-made version of vitamin B9, often known as folate. Low B9 levels have been linked to health problems such as an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and birth defects.

Folic acid is given to people with sickle cell disease, high-risk pregnancies, and people who are taking medicine to stop seizures. Folic acid is additionally prescribed to people receiving methotrexate to help reduce some negative effects.

Methotrexate is used to treat some types of cancer and some diseases caused by the body’s immune system. Since folate is essential for cancer cell growth, this medication acts as an “antifolate” to block its production.

Green was motivated by findings from a study published in Nature Communications last year that revealed COVID-19’s causative agent, the SARS-CoV-2 virus, exploits the host’s folate for viral replication. This shows that the virus may be sensitive to both folate and substances that stop folate from working.

The researchers examined prescription data for folic acid and methotrexate from 2019 to 2021 in 380,380 persons in the UK Biobank to see whether folic acid was linked to an increased risk of COVID-19 and whether methotrexate was linked to a decreased risk.

They found 26,033 people with COVID-19, and 820 of them died from it. COVID-19 was found in about the same number of people who took methotrexate as in the whole study group.

However, compared to the control group, those with folic acid prescriptions had higher rates of COVID-19 infection diagnoses (5.99%) and COVID-19 mortality (15.97%).

The results, according to Angelo L. Gaffo, co-senior author, “could have implications for patients who take supplementary folate to prevent complications of other pharmacological therapies.

“Although taking folate in these cases,” according to the co-senior author, “is clearly indicated, clinicians should be cautious about excessive folate intake. Of course, our results will require replication.”

Due to the makeup of UK BioBank data, the current findings are limited to UK nationals 45 and older of White European ethnicity.

The subjects’ serum folate levels were not examined in the study. They point out that more research is required to fully understand how folic acid consumption and folate status affect susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infection and its deadly consequences.

“The defined safe upper limit of folic acid,” according to Green, “is one milligram. Until we have more information, it would be prudent to avoid extremely high doses of folic acid unless it is medically indicated. High folic acid would be of greater concern in unvaccinated individuals.”

Image Credit: Getty

You were reading: People On This Prescription Pill 1.5 Times More Likely To Get COVID And Die From Infection


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