Since the early 1990s, maternal folic acid supplementation has been recommended prior to and during the first trimester of pregnancy, to reduce the risk of infant neural tube defects. In addition, many countries have also implemented the folic acid fortification of staple foods, in order to promote sufficient intakes amongst women of a childbearing age, based on concerns surrounding variable dietary and supplementation practices. As many women continue to take folic acid supplements beyond the recommended first trimester, there has been an overall increase in folate intakes, particularly in countries with mandatory fortification. This has raised questions on the consequences for the developing fetus, given that folic acid, a methyl donor, has the potential to epigenetically modify gene expression. In animal studies, folic acid has been shown to promote an allergic phenotype in the offspring, through changes in DNA methylation. Human population studies have also described associations between folate status in pregnancy and the risk of subsequent childhood allergic disease. In this review, we address the question of whether ongoing maternal folic acid supplementation after neural tube closure, could be contributing to the rise in early life allergic diseases.
Keywords: allergic disease; epigenetics; folate; folic acid; maternal diet; pregnancy.