U.S. Folate Levels Lower but Still OK
Low-Carb Diets May Have Cut Use of Folate-Fortified Foods
Sept. 7, 2007 - Americans' folate levels have dropped -- but not yet to the
low levels that lead to birth defects, the CDC reports.
Folate, also known as folic acid,
is a necessary nutrient. Low folate levels are linked to many kinds of
health problems, such as stroke, anemia, various cancers, and poor mental
Perhaps the worst consequences
come when pregnant women have folate deficiency. Their unborn children are at
risk for neural tube defects. These birth defects result in spina bifida (an
incompletely formed spinal cord ) or anencephaly (in which a large part
of the child's brain and skull are missing).
To prevent birth defects, the U.S. has since 1998 required enrichment of
cereal-grain products with folate. Pregnant women were encouraged to eat
folate-rich foods and/or folate supplements (nearly all multiple vitamins
contain the minimum daily recommended dose of folate).
The strategy worked. Americans' folate levels soared, and neural-tube
defects became rarer.
But now Americans' folate levels are dropping, the CDC says. Fortunately,
U.S. folate levels still are high enough to prevent folate deficiency.
"The decrease is not at the low end of concentrations and therefore does
not raise concerns about inadequate status," conclude CDC researcher
Christine M. Pfeiffer, PhD, and colleagues.
It's not clear why U.S. folate levels are dropping. One reason may be that
food producers aren't using as much folic acid as they used to. Another reason
may be the popularity of low-carb diets, in which people cut back on the foods
typically fortified with folate.
The CDC is keeping a close eye on the trend. Meanwhile, it's a good idea for
women of childbearing age to be sure they get at least 400 micrograms of folate
(or folic acid) every day.
The CDC report appears in the September issue of The American Journal of