Purpose: To investigate whether dietary folate or multivitamin folic acid taken 3 months before conception and during the first 3 months of pregnancy reduces the risk of isolated occurrent neural tube defect (NTD)-affected pregnancies.
Methods: This population-based case control study conducted between 1992 and 1997 included 179 women with NTD-affected pregnancies and 288 randomly selected controls. Women completed a food frequency questionnaire and were interviewed about lifestyle behaviors, pregnancy histories and use of multivitamins.
Results: Use of 0.4 mg or more of multivitamin folic acid at least 3 times per week during the periconceptional period showed no statistically significant reduction in NTD risk [adjusted odds ratio (AOR) = 0.55, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 025, 1.22]. After adjusting for covariates, protective effects for NTDs were observed at the highest quartiles of dietary folate and total folate (daily dietary folate plus daily multivitamin folic acid); the respective odds ratios were 0.40 (95% CI = 0.19, 0.84) and 0.35 (95% CI = 0.17, 0.72).
Conclusions: This study illustrates some of the difficulties in determining effects of folic acid and dietary folate in a population where the consumption of foods rich in folate and the use of multivitamins are increasing and the rate of NTDs is declining. Studies are needed to monitor future changes in folate levels and their effect on health.