The Health and Food Supplements Information Service welcomes green light for folate safety

A new study published by Queen Mary University of London and the School of Advanced Study, University of London, has called for official limits on folate in the diet to be scrapped. These are currently set at 1mg daily to prevent any risk to neurological health in elderly people. The researchers also called for all white flour used in the UK to be fortified with folic acid, a form of folate, to help prevent ‘neural tube’ birth defects.

Commenting on this latest research from Queen Mary University of London and the School of Advanced Study, The Health and Food Supplements Information Service (HSIS) nutrition expert, Dr Emma Derbyshire, said: “Around three quarters of women of childbearing age in the UK have inadequate blood levels of folate, which puts their children at risk of neural tube birth defects, such as spina bifida. Despite clear government guidance, only a quarter of women take daily folic acid supplements when planning their families and during the first three months of pregnancy. A lack of awareness about the importance of folic acid prior to and in early pregnancy is one reason for this.

“Fortifying all white flour in the UK with folic acid is an important step forward but worries about safe levels of the vitamin have hampered policy development. This new study from the University of London shows, for the first time, that people who take more than 1mg of folic acid daily are not at increased risk of neurological damage. Where neurological damage was found, it was caused by a deficiency of vitamin B12, not by folic acid supplementation. This means that there is no longer any justification for an upper limit for folate, just as there is currently no limitation on intakes of most of the B vitamins.

“While we await a government response to the flour fortification debate, it’s clear that health professionals need to keep highlighting the need for folic acid supplementation for women planning a pregnancy. Elderly people can also benefit from a B complex supplement to target worryingly low levels of a number of B vitamins.”