Background: Since 1998, in the countries where there is mandatory fortification of grain products with folic acid, folate deficiency has become very rare. Consequently, we decided to find out whether there is any justification for ordering folate assays for investigation of anemias.
Methods: We reviewed serum folate (SF) and red cell folate (RF) data at two teaching hospitals in Canada. At the Health Sciences Centre (HSC) the folate data for the year 2001 were analyzed and the medical records of those with low SF or low RF were reviewed. At St. Boniface General Hospital(SBGH)all folate data between January 1996 and Dec 31,2004 were analyzed and the medical records of all who had low RF between January 1,1999 and December 31,2004 were reviewed.
Results: In 2001, at HSC, 11 out of 2154(0.5%)SF were low(<7.0 nmol/L) and 4 out of 560 (0.7%) RF were low (<417 nmol/L). In no subject with low SF or RF could the anemia be attributed to folate deficiency. At SBGH during the 3-year-period of 1999-2001, 19 out of 991(1.9%) had low RF (<225 nmol/L) but in only 2 patients (0.2%) the low RF was in folate deficiency anemia range; but neither of them had anemia.
Conclusion: In countries where there is mandatory fortification of grain products with folic acid, folate deficiency to the degree that could cause anemia is extremely rare. Ordering folate assays for investigation of anemias, in these countries, is waste of time and money. The result of these tests is more likely to mislead the physicians than to provide any useful information.