WASHINGTON -- Women who might become pregnant need 400 micrograms of folic acid per day to reduce their risk of having a child with neural tube defects, according to the latest report on Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) from the Institute of Medicine. The report -- the second in a new series by American and Canadian scientists -- provides Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) and other dietary reference values for B vitamins, of which folate is one, and choline. It says that all adult men and women need 400 micrograms of folate in their diet -- a level that many in the United States have not met, according to surveys completed before January of this year, when many foods began to be fortified with folic acid, a synthetic form of folate. But it emphasized the special needs of childbearing women.
"Research over the past decade strongly indicates that women capable of becoming pregnant should eat a varied diet and also take extra folic acid, especially in the month just prior to conception and the first month of pregnancy," said committee chair Roy M. Pitkin, professor emeritus of obstetrics and gynecology at University of California, Los Angeles. "They can best get folic acid from fortified cereal grains or from a supplement."
Since fortification of enriched cereal grains began, folic acid can be found in enriched bread, pasta, flour, crackers, breakfast cereal, rice, and many other foods in the United States. To reduce the risk of neural tube defects, women capable of becoming pregnant should consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily from fortified foods, vitamin supplements, or a combination of the two, the report says. This is in addition to the naturally occurring folate they obtain from a varied diet. Whether these women can rely totally on the folate in food is uncertain, since research has involved giving only additional amounts of folic acid.