Although the recommended dose of folic acid per day for women of reproductive age is 400 micrograms and helps prevent birth defects, studies show that most eligible women, especially those between the ages of 18 and 24, do not take it, reports Reuters Health.
These findings are worrying given the exact link between low folate levels and the incidence of neural tube defects that include abnormalities in brain and spine development that often result in severe or fatal disabilities.
To ensure maximum effect, folate levels should be appropriate from the beginning of pregnancy not only after a woman finds out she is pregnant.
The results of both studies appeared in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
In the first study, the researchers from Centers of Disease Control and Prevention evaluated the awareness, information and use of supplements containing folic acid among women of reproductive age (18-45 years) analyzing data from annual surveys conducted by Gallup Organization from 2003 to 2007.
The report shows that over the entire study, the percentage of women who consumed daily folic acid supplements never exceeded 48%, with the exception of women who received pregnancy confirmation.
In 2007, the percentage of eligible women who consumed supplements was 40%. The lowest consumption of folic acid supplements was observed in women between the ages of 18 and 24 - ranging from 25% to 31%. Women in this age group also had lower awareness (61%) and information (6%) about the importance of folic acid than women in other age groups.
During the study there were no improvements in the consumption of supplements with folic acid, the degree of information or awareness.
In the second study, researchers from the Puerto Rico Department of Health and CDC examined awareness of the importance of folic acid and the consumption of this supplement in women aged 18 to 44 years, in parallel with the incidence of neural tube defects in Puerto Rich from 1996 to 2006.
The findings indicate that the level of awareness and consumption of folic acid increased from 1997 to 2003, but decreased from 2003 to 2006. During the first period, the incidence of neural tube defects decreased, while during the second period no significant change was recorded.
Specifically, in 1997, only 22.4% of women were aware that folic acid was recommended to prevent birth defects and only 20.2% of women used folic acid supplements.
Until 2003, the percentage increased by 72.0% and 30.9% respectively, but by 2006 they decreased by 56.5% and 24.8% respectively. As with the first study, women between the ages of 18 and 24 tended very little to use folic acid supplements.
These findings support the continued promotion of folic acid consumption by women of reproductive age, especially those between the ages of 18 and 24.
January 11, 2008