U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends mothers take folic acid supplements

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U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends mothers take folic acid supplements

By Michael Johnsen - 01/10/2017

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force on Tuesday published a final recommendation statement on folic acid, suggesting all women who are planning or able to become pregnant take a daily supplement containing 400 micrograms  to 800 micrograms of folic acid.

“The Task Force found convincing evidence that the risk of neural tube defects can be reduced when women take a daily folic acid supplement,” stated Alex Kemper, Task Force member. “These supplements can be taken as a daily multivitamin, prenatal vitamin or single tablet that has the recommended amount of folic acid.”

Folic acid is found naturally in many fruits and vegetables, such as leafy greens, broccoli and orange juice. Additionally, in the United States, many foods such as flour, cereals and breads are fortified with folic acid. However, even with food fortification, most women do not get the recommended dose of folic acid per day through diet alone.

“We commend the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force for its continued recommendation that all women of child-bearing age supplement with folic acid to avoid experiencing [birth defects]," stated Duffy MacKay, SVP scientific and regulatory affairs for the Council for Responsible Nutrition. MacKay noted that the amount of folic acid being recommended is typically found in multivitamins and pre-natal vitamins.

"Government data have repeatedly validated that there is ‘considerable room for improvement in the use of folic acid supplements across the population of reproductive-age women,’ as stated in the accompanying editorial published in JAMA Pediatrics," MacKay noted. "Thus, we hope that this recommendation, which is supported by reputable institutions, such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics, is taken under serious consideration and adhered to for the health and wellbeing of our nation’s future generations."

MacKay suggested that strong recommendations from government agencies advocating supplementation should pave the way to include multivitamins with folic acid within all government nutrition programs, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs. "This will ensure that reproductive-age women looking to the government for nutritional assistance will have access to the protective effects of folic acid during pregnancy," he said. "Low-income mothers should have the choice to use their SNAP benefits to purchase a multivitamin with folic acid. Furthermore, a multivitamin provides other nutrients, such as iodine, that are critical for a healthy pregnancy.”

The critical period when folic acid supplements provide the most protective benefits begins one month before becoming pregnant and continues through the first three months of pregnancy.

Neural tube defects, in which the brain or spinal cord does not develop properly in a baby, are birth defects that can lead to a range of disabilities or death. Neural tube defects can occur early in a pregnancy, even before a woman knows she is pregnant. Taking folic acid before and during pregnancy can help protect babies against neural tube defects, the agency stated.

The Task Force’s recommendation has been published online in JAMA, as well as on the Task Force website