Government Recommendation for Folic Acid Supplementation Determined On Point

The United States Preventive Service Task Force (USPSTF) firs recommended that women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should take folic acid, back in 2009. The statement recommends that these women should take a daily supplement containing between 0.4 and 0.8 mg of folic acid to help reduce the risk of neural tube defect in the newborn.

According to Laura Mitchell, PhD, “Since neural tube defects occur in the first few weeks of pregnancy, it is important for women to be taking the recommended amount of folic acid before they become pregnant. Because approximately one-half of pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, the USPSTF recommendation holds for all reproductive-age women, whether or not they are planning a pregnancy, so that all pregnancies benefit from this preventive measure.”

Mitchell is a professor in the University of Texas Health Sciences Center’s Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics, and Environmental Sciences.

Now, this initial recommendation (for folic acid supplementation) has not changed much since 2009. However, a new report considers powerful evidence that emerged after the adding of mandatory folic acid fortification to America’s food supply. Indeed, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first mandated folic fortification in grain products—namely flour and bread—back in January of 1998.

But the researchers are saying that even this supplementation is not enough for all women of reproductive age. Many, the study suggests, are actually far below appropriate folic acid levels to lower risk for neural tube defects.

Mitchell goes on to say, “Even in the era of mandatory folic acid fortification of the food supply, taking a daily supplement remains a critical strategy for women to make sure they are receiving enough folic acid.”

According to a statement taken from the USPSTF and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), yesterday: “This recommendation reaffirms the 2009 recommendation statement on folic acid supplementation in women of childbearing age. The current statement recommends that all women who are planning or capable of pregnancy take a daily supplement of folic acid.”

The task force also notes, “Randomized and observational studies suggest that taking folic acid significantly decreases the risk of fetal neural tube defects, particularly in women whose diets are not high in folic acid.”