Primary prevention of most folate-responsive neural tube defects (NTDs) may not require 400 μg folic acid/day but may be achieved by attaining a high maternal folate status. Using RBC folate ≥906 nmol/L as a marker for NTD risk reduction, the study aimed to determine the change in blood folate concentrations in reproductive age women in response to long-term folic acid supplementation at 400 µg/day and 140 µg/day (dose designed to mimic the average daily folic acid intake received from New Zealand's proposed mandatory bread fortification program). Participants were randomly assigned to a daily folic acid supplement of 140 µg (n = 49), 400 µg (n = 48) or placebo (n = 47) for 40 weeks. RBC folate concentrations were measured at baseline, and after 6, 12, 29 and 40 weeks. At 40 weeks, the overall prevalence of having a RBC folate <906 nmol/L decreased to 18% and 35% in the 400 µg and 140 µg groups, respectively, while remaining relatively unchanged at 58% in the placebo group. After 40 weeks, there was no evidence of a difference in RBC folate between the two treatment groups (P = 0.340), nor was there evidence of a difference in the odds of a RBC folate <906 nmol/L (P = 0.078). In conclusion, the average daily intake of folic acid received from the proposed fortification program would increase RBC folate concentrations in reproductive age women to levels associated with a low risk of NTDs.
Keywords: neural tube defects; blood folate status; folic acid fortification; supplementation.