Folic acid is a form of the B vitamin folate, which is important for healthy cell division. Folate is found in green vegetables such as spinach and sprouts, offal, such as liver and kidney, and pulses such as chickpeas. Folate deficiency leads to a type of anaemia, known as megaloblastic anaemia, in which the red blood cells are abnormally enlarged and are thus dysfunctional.
Women of childbearing age are advised by the government to take a daily 400μg folic acid supplement. Should a woman fall pregnant, having optimal levels of folic acid in the blood reduces the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs), such as spina bifida, in the foetus. The neural tube forms into the brain and spinal cord – it is failure of the neural tube to close properly early in pregnancy, which most often occurs before pregnancy is confirmed, that results in NTDs. Causes of NTDs are multifactorial and may also be due to genetic factors, environmental risk factors and low vitamin B12 status.
In October 2014, a health claim was authorised for use in the EU recognising the importance of folic acid status in protecting against NTDs:
“Supplemental folic acid intake increases maternal folate status. Low maternal folate status is a risk factor in the development of neural tube defects in the developing foetus.”
To achieve the claimed effect, women of child-bearing age should consume a daily supplement of 400μg folic acid for at least 1 month before and up to 3 months after conception.
The health claim application was submitted by Rank Nutrition Ltd, and funded by three dietary supplement trade associations in the UK (HFMA1 , PAGB2 and CRN-UK3) in conjunction with the UK’s spina bifida and hydrocephalus charity (Shine).
The Regulation authorising the claim can be found at:
- Health Food Manufacturer’s Association
- Proprietary Association of Great Britain
- Council for Responsible Nutrition – UK