Periconceptional folate intake and neural tube defects

J Am Coll Nutr. 1996 Apr;15(2):121-5. doi: 10.1080/07315724.1996.10718576.


Approximately 50% of neural tube defects may be folate-preventable and perhaps even more in other countries where prevalence is high. The Public Health Service has issued the recommendation that all women of childbearing age in the United States who are capable of becoming pregnant should consume 400 micrograms of folic acid/day for the purpose of reducing this risk. Ways in which a reproductive age woman could achieve this goal include: 1) fortifying a food sample with folic acid, 2) consuming supplements containing at least 400 mcg of folic acid, or 3) increasing nutrient intake by eating foods rich in folate. Advantages of consuming foods high in folate content are that it is a natural behavior and consistent with other dietary recommendations. However, this method is dependent upon a proper diet, and equivalencies of conjugated (dietary form) vs. unconjugated (in supplements) folate are unknown. The benefit of a supplementation policy is that the appropriate group can be targeted as pregnancies are planned, whereas primary limitations to taking a supplement would be compliance and most cases in need would not be reached. The advantage of fortification is that it is likely to reach everyone before conception, while the major disadvantage is that nontargeted populations will also receive more folic acid. Adequate consumption of folic acid should begin before and continue during at least the first 4 weeks after conception when the fetal neural tube is being formed. Standard methods of screening for neural tube defects should continue during pregnancy. The risk of a recurrent neural tube defect is 2-3%, and a higher periconception daily intake of folic acid (4 mg per day) is recommended.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Female
  • Folic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Folic Acid / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Neural Tube Defects / epidemiology
  • Neural Tube Defects / prevention & control*
  • Pregnancy
  • Public Policy
  • United States
  • United States Food and Drug Administration


  • Folic Acid