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Measuring Folate Levels in People

CDC’s Environmental Health Laboratory has provided long-time scientific leadership in the area of folate nutrition by:

  1. Developing state-of-the art methods for measuring levels of folate in people’s blood and serum.
  2. Helping with efforts to standardize clinical methods for measuring folate in people.
  3. Measuring folate levels in the U.S. population over many years.

Knowing folate levels is important because women of childbearing age with low folate levels are at risk of giving birth to a baby with birth defects of the brain or spine. In 1996, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandated that all enriched cereal-grain products be fortified with folic acid by January 1998. Food fortification was determined to be the best strategy for increasing blood folate levels since the critical period for adequate folic acid intake is in the first weeks of pregnancy, before most women know they are pregnant and begin taking prenatal vitamins.

Scientists measured levels of folate in people who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which collects data on the health of people living in the United States through interviews, direct physical examinations, and laboratory tests. The laboratory found that serum folate levels have nearly tripled in the U.S. population since 1998.

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