Folic acid study reveals Europe-wide confusion

By Alex McNally

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Folic acid, Neural tube defects

A new study presented today has revealed that variations in
recommended daily allowances for folic acid across the EU are
causing confusion for consumers.

Adequate folic acid prior to conception and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy has been found to help cut down the incidences of pregnancies affected by neural tube defects (NTDs) by between 11 and 18 per cent. Ways to increase folic acid levels have been under discussion in several member states but the study, presented by the EURRECA Network of Excellence at the European Congress of Nutrition in Paris, is aimed at bringing about a Europe-wide scientific consensus on micronutrient recommendations In the UK folic acid levels are a hot topic with the Food Standards Agency recommending to health ministers the fortification of certain products, either bread or flour. Ireland has also agreed to implement its own program of implementation. Between 700 and 900 pregnancies are affected by NTDs each year, not including miscarriages, in the UK alone. But when it came down to the daily allowance of pregnant women the EURRECA group found large variances between countries, with the UK coming in with a low 300 mcg/d to Germany's 600 mcg/d. The survey found that some member states group all adults together and provide one recommendation, whereas others provide separate recommendations for men and women. Age groupings for babies and children also differred. Professor Lisette de Groot from the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands and one of the authors of the survey, said: "Individual countries convene expert panels and review their national guidance on recommendations for micronutrients at different times, which means they are often not working with the same or most up-to-date scientific information. This results in national recommendations being out of 'sync' with each other. "To add further confusion, nations use different standards and definitions when making their recommendations." ​ Folic acid is a good example of wide variation in recommendations in official guidance due mainly to the fact that scientific knowledge on this micronutrient has increased dramatically in recent years, the group said. had not seen EURRECA's preliminary report prior to publication. EURRECA partner Professor Helene McNulty from University of Ulster reinforced the message of folic acid being important to pregnant women. She said: "Scientists now universally agree that women of child-bearing age wishing to become pregnant should aim at an extra 400mcg of folic acid a day to combat neural tube defects in their babies." ​ However, part of the reason the decision-making process has dragged on for years, however, is that excess folate consumption can mask detection of vitamin B12 deficiency, particularly in other people. If B12 deficiency is not detected and addressed, it can have a serious and permanent effect on cognitive function. The 10th European Nutrition Conference is on in Paris until Friday with topics covering malnutrition and deficiencies, nutrition research and European nutritional policies. After the meeting EURRECA, which is made up of 35 organisations in 17 EU countries, will pass its results onto the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

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