Folate status and health: challenges and opportunities
Each year approximately 2400 pregnancies develop folic acid-preventable spina bifida and anencephaly in Europe. Currently, 70% of all affected pregnancies are terminated after prenatal diagnosis. The prevalence of neural tube defects (NTDs) has been significantly lowered in more than 70 countries worldwide by applying fortification with folic acid. Periconceptional supplementation of folic acid also reduces the risk of congenital heart diseases, preterm birth, low birth weight, and health problems associated with child mortality and morbidity. All European governments failed to issue folic acid fortification of centrally processed and widely eaten foods in order to prevent NTDs and other unwanted birth outcomes. The estimated average dietary intake of folate in Germany is 200 μg dietary folate equivalents (DFE)/day. More than half of German women of reproductive age do not con-sume sufficient dietary folate to achieve optimal serum or red blood cell folate concentrations ( > 18 or 1000 nmol/L, respectively) necessary to prevent spina bifida and anencephaly. To date, targeted supplementation is recommended in Europe, but this approach failed to reduce the rate of NTDs during the last 10 years. Public health centers for prenatal care and fortification with folic acid in Europe are urgently needed. Only such an action will sufficiently improve folate status, prevent at least 50% of the NTD cases, reduce child mortality and morbidity, and alleviate other health problems associated with low folate such as anemia.