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Update Report on Folic Acid and the Prevention of Birth Defects in Ireland

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Folic acid is the synthetic form of the B vitamin known as folate.

Neural tube defects (NTDs), including spina bifida, anencephaly and related defects, are the most common major malformations of the central nervous system.

About 70% of NTDs are preventable with folic acid, a form of the B-vitamin folate, if taken from before conception until about the fourth week of pregnancy. Since 1993, the policy in Ireland has been to provide advice to all women of childbearing age who are capable of becoming pregnant, whether planning to do so or not, to take 400 μg of folic acid daily as a supplement.

The policy for prevention of NTDs should be reviewed on a regular basis to assess its effectiveness and safety. This should be based on outcomes of monitoring of the rate of NTDs, compliance with advice on supplements, dietary intake and blood levels of folate for all population groups and updates on research related to safety.

This report presents two possible options to reduce risk of NTD-affected pregnancies in Ireland. For both options the available evidence shows that the levels of intake of folic acid that would occur would not increase the risk of adverse health effects in the population.


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