Response of red blood cell folate to intervention: implications for folate recommendations for the prevention of neural tube defects

H McNulty, G J Cuskelly, M Ward

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Abstract

Committees worldwide have set almost identical folate recommendations for the prevention of the first occurrence of neural tube defects (NTDs). We evaluate these recommendations by reviewing the results of intervention studies that examined the response of red blood cell folate to altered folate intake. Three options are suggested to achieve the extra 400 mu g folic acid/d being recommended by the official committees: increased intake of folate-rich foods, dietary folic acid supplementation, and folic acid fortification of food. A significant increase in foods naturally rich in folates was shown to be a relatively ineffective means of increasing red blood cell folate status in women compared with equivalent intakes of folic acid-fortified food, presumably because the synthetic form of the vitamin is more stable and more bioavailable. Although folic acid supplements are highly effective in optimizing folate status, supplementation is not an effective strategy for the primary prevention of NTDs because of poor compliance. Thus, food fortification is seen by many as the only option likely to succeed. Mandatory folic acid fortification of grain products was introduced recently in the United States at a level projected to provide an additional mean intake of 100 mu g folic acid/d, but some feel that this policy does not go far enough. A recent clinical trial predicted that the additional intake of folic acid in the United States will reduce NTDs by >20%, whereas 200 mu g/d would be highly protective and is the dose also shown to be optimal in lowering plasma homocysteine, with possible benefits in preventing cardiovascular disease. Thus, an amount lower than the current target of an extra 400 mu g/d may be sufficient to increase red blood cell folate to concentrations associated with the lowest risk of NTDs, but further investigation is warranted to establish the optimal amount.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1308S-1311S
Number of pages4
JournalAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Volume71
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)

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