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Biofactors. 2011 Jul-Aug;37(4):280-4. doi: 10.1002/biof.175.

Folic acid and primary prevention of birth defects.

Author information

1
National Centre for Rare Diseases, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome, Italy. domenica.taruscio@iss.it

Abstract

Birth defects (BDs) are an important public health problem, due to their overall incidence, occurring in 2-3% of live births in European Union. Neural tube defects (NTDs) are among major NTDs, due to their severity and relatively high incidence; in the meanwhile NTDs are also the most effectively preventable BDs to date. In particular, an adequate folic acid (FA) intake reduces both the occurrence and the recurrence of NTDs; FA is the synthetic form of folates, naturally occurring vitamins in a number of foods, especially vegetables. The daily intake of 0.4 mg of FA should be recommended to all women of childbearing age who plan to become pregnant. The Italian Network for Primary Prevention of BDs through FA Promotion has achieved a significant improvement in FA awareness and use in the periconceptional period. Nevertheless, primary prevention of BDs needs to make further progress; the Italian National Centre for Rare Diseases participates in european sureveillance of congenital anomalies (EUROCAT) Joint Action as coordinator of activities on the effectiveness of BDs prevention. Mandatory food fortification with FA has not been introduced in any European country. The health benefits of FA in reducing the risk of NTDs are undisputed; however mechanistic and animal studies suggest a relationship between high FA intakes and increased cancer promotion, while human studies are still inconsistent and inconclusive. A Working Group organized by the European Food Safety Authority pointed out significant uncertainties about fortification safety and the need for more studies; currently, FA intake from fortified foods and supplements should not exceed 1 mg/day in adults. In conclusion, based on up-to-date scientific evidence, the Italian Network strategy pivots on periconceptional supplementation integrated with promotion of healthy eating habits, support to health education, enhancing the role of women in managing life choices about their health and pregnancy and increasing the scientific knowledge about BDs primary prevention.

PMID:
21915935
DOI:
10.1002/biof.175
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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