Patti MA, Braun JM, Arbuckle TE, MacFarlane AJ. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2022 Oct 18:nqac235. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqac235
Achieving optimal folate status during early gestation reduces the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs). While inadequate folate intake remains a concern, it is becoming increasingly common for individuals to consume higher than recommended doses of folic acid (FA) with minimal additional benefit.
Here, we sought to investigate the determinants, including FA supplement dose and use, of plasma total and individual folate vitamer concentrations in the first and third trimesters of pregnancy.
Using data from the Maternal–Infant Research on Environmental Chemicals (MIREC) Study, a cohort exposed to mandatory FA fortification, we measured plasma total folate and individual folate vitamer [5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-methylTHF), unmetabolized FA (UMFA), and non-methyl folates (sum of THF, 5-formylTHF, 5,10-methenyl-THF)] concentrations in the first and third trimesters (n = 1,893). Using linear mixed models, we estimated associations between plasma folate concentrations, total daily supplemental FA intake, plasma vitamin B-12 concentrations, and multiple demographic, maternal, and reproductive factors.
Almost 95% of MIREC study participants met or exceeded the recommended daily supplemental FA intake from supplements (≥400 μg/d), with approximately 25% consuming more than the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (>1000 μg/d). Over 99% of MIREC participants had a plasma total folate status indicative of maximal NTD risk reduction (25.5 nmol/L) regardless of FA supplement dose. UMFA was detected in almost all participants, with higher concentrations associated with higher FA doses. Determinants of adequate FA supplement intake and folate status associated with reduced NTD risk included indicators of higher socioeconomic position, higher maternal age, nulliparity, and lower prepregnancy BMI.
In the context of mandatory FA fortification, our data indicate that higher-than-recommended FA doses are unwarranted, with the exception of individuals at higher risk for NTDs. Ideally, prenatal supplements would contain 400 rather than 1000 µg FA, thereby enabling the consumption of optimal and safe FA doses.