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Key Findings: Folate Deficiency is Common in Women of Reproductive Age

Photo of woman holding her baby and kissing cheek

The Journal of Nutrition has published a study that looks at the amount of folate and vitamin B12 in the blood of non-pregnant women of reproductive age in Belize. If women consume folic acid (the type of folate in vitamins) before and during pregnancy, this can help protect their babies from having neural tube defects. Some previous research has also shown that women with low amounts of vitamin B12 in their blood shortly before and after conception might be at risk for having a child with a neural tube defect. The recent study reported in Journal of Nutrition showed that many women in Belize had low amounts of folate and/or vitamin B12 in their blood. These results revealed that additional interventions are needed to promote adequate intake of both vitamins in order for women of reproductive age to have optimal amounts of each vitamin in their blood. You can read the scientific summary of the article.

About This Study

Researchers collected data in 2011 from a group of non-pregnant women in Belize, aged 15-49 years, who have similar characteristics to the entire population of non-pregnant women in the country. Researchers used these data to

  • Measure blood folate, vitamin B12 and anemia among non-pregnant women of reproductive age; and
  • Look at how the status of vitamin B12 might affect the amount of folate in the blood of non-pregnant women.
What are Neural Tube Defects?
  • Neural tube defects are serious birth defects of the brain and spine.
  • The two most common neural tube defects are spina bifida (affects the spine) and anencephaly (affects the brain).
  • Neural tube defects happen during the first month of pregnancy.
  • Many, but not all, neural tube defects can be prevented if a woman of reproductive age consumes 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily before and during early pregnancy.

Main Findings from This Study

  • Many women had low amounts of folate in their blood despite laws in Belize that allow, but do not require, addition of folic acid (a type of folate) to wheat flour (voluntary food fortification).
  • Many women had low amounts of vitamin B12 in their blood; vitamin B12 is not included in Belize‚Äôs voluntary fortification laws.
  • Compared to women with low amounts of vitamin B12 in their blood, women with normal amounts of vitamin B12 had much higher amounts of blood folate.
  • These findings show that women of reproductive age in Belize need to consume more folate and vitamin B12 to achieve adequate amounts in their blood.

Key Findings Reference

Rosenthal J, Largaespada N, Bailey LB, Cannon M, Alverson CJ, Ortiz D, Kauwell GP, Sniezek J, Figueroa R, Daly R, Allen P. Folate Deficiency Is Prevalent in Women of Childbearing Age in Belize and Is Negatively Affected by Coexisting Vitamin B-12 Deficiency: Belize National Micronutrient Survey 2011. Journal of Nutrition. 2017;147(6):1183-1193.

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