Effect of increasing dietary folate on red-cell folate: Implications for prevention of neural tube defects

G J Cuskelly, H McNulty, J M Scott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

282 Citations (Scopus)


Background Recommendations by the UK Department of Health suggest that protection from neural tube defects (NTD) can be achieved through intakes of an extra 400 mu g daily of folate/folic acid as natural food, foods fortified with folic acid, or supplements. The assumption is that all three routes of intervention would have equal effects on folate status.

Methods We assessed the effectiveness of these suggested routes of intervention in optimising folate status. 62 women were recruited from the University staff and students to take part in a 3-month intervention study. Participants were randomly assigned to one of the following five groups: folic acid supplement (400 mu g/day; I); folic-acid-fortified foods (an additional 400 mu g/day; II); dietary folate (an additional 400 mu g/day; III); dietary advice (IV), and control (V). Responses to intervention were assessed as changes in red-cell folate between preintervention and postintervention values.

Findings 41 women completed the intervention study. Red-cell folate concentrations increased significantly over the 3 months in the groups taking folic acid supplements (group I) or food fortified with folic acid (group II) only (p<0.01 for both groups). By contrast, although aggressive intervention with dietary folate (group III) or dietary advice (group IV) significantly increased intake of food folate (p<0.001 and p<0.05, respectively), there was no significant change in folate status.

Interpretation We have shown that compared with supplements and fortified food, consumption of extra folate as natural food folate is relatively ineffective at increasing folate status. We believe that advice to women to consume folate-rich foods as a means to optimise folate status is misleading.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)657-659
Number of pages3
Issue number9002
Publication statusPublished - 09 Mar 1996


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