Folate belongs to the family of B vitamins and should be consumed daily. The current debate on the desirability of adding folic acid to staple foods, has led to the consideration of other strategies to improve levels of folate in the Europeans.
Why do we need folate?
Folate is needed for synthesis, repair and operation of DNA and RNA, the supports of life. Folate is necessary for the production and maintenance of new cell and it is especially important during periods of rapid growth such as childhood or pregnancy. Both adults and children need folate to make normal red blood cells and prevent anemia (1). The mild folate deficiency is associated with high levels of the amino acid homocysteine in the blood, which is an emerging risk factor for heart disease and stroke (2). Since folate protects DNA from damage, it is believed that it could prevent some cancers, including colon cancer (3).
Foods containing folate
It is recommended that adults ingest 200 micrograms of folate per day. Among the foods that contain it include orange juice, leafy green vegetables, peanuts, beans, and bowels. To avoid the slight deficiency of folate is good to get used to consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
Supplements of folic acid
The folic acid is a simple form of folate and easy absorption created by man. In early 1990, showed that women taking folic acid supplements around the time of conception of a child decreased by over 50% the risk that he was born with neural tube defects. Across Europe, health campaigns were launched to promote the consumption of foods rich in folate and folic acid supplements (400 micrograms per day) among women of childbearing age. However, the success of these campaigns was limited, especially because women often change their diet once they know they are pregnant, i.e. a few weeks after conceiving, and then it is too late.
Fortification of food
An alternative strategy is the fortification of staple foods like flour with folic acid. Thus, all women of childbearing age and those at risk of cardiovascular disorders get the proper amount of folic acid. However, it is not yet adopted this technique in Europe, mainly by the drawback that high doses of folic acid may not be beneficial to the entire population. In particular, folic acid can mask symptoms of anemia related to a lack of vitamin B12 and associated changes in the nervous system that can cause irreversible neurological damage (1). Moreover, folic acid supplements may interfere with some cancer treatments (5).
Increasing consumption of dietary folate
For these reasons, scientists look for other ways to increase consumption of folate. One of the main objectives of the team is FuncHealth (6), the EU funded work to discover ways to increase consumption of natural folate from the diet. These are some of their findings (7):
- The level of folate fermented products like bread, beer and wine can be enhanced through the choice of strains of yeast rich in folate.
- Other germs of fermentation, the lactic acid bacteria also synthesize folate. Choosing the right yeast can multiply by 20 the folate content of fermented milk products like cheese and yoghurt.
- Folate content of some processed foods such as soups and fruit juices can be increased through the selection of varieties of fruits and vegetables rich in folate and use of food processing techniques that minimize the loss of folate.
- Folates are concentrated in the outer part of the cereal grain, and the utilization of ground in not discard this may increase the folate content of the flour.
It is estimated that advances in the techniques of food processing and selection of ingredients rich in folate could double our current consumption of folate, but this remains insufficient. Dr Paul Finglas, the British Institute of Food Research and the project coordinator FolateFuncHealth, believes that “by following a balanced diet, it is difficult to consume the amount of folate natural enough to prevent chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. It is necessary to fortify foods with reduced levels of folate supplements individually or use". Soon all will be issued recommendations based on findings from the projectFolateFuncHealth , which subsequently will be made on its website (6).
1. Food Standards Agency UK
2. Strain JJ. L. Dowey et al (2004) B-vitamins, Homocysteine metabolism and CVD. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 63, 597-603.
3. Duthie SJ. S. Narayanan et al (2004) Folate, DNA stability and colo-rectal cancer. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 63, 571-578.
4. MRC Vitamin Study Research Group (1991) Prevention of neural tube defects, results of the Medical Research Council Vitamin Study. The Lancet 338, 131-137.
5. Peters GJ, Hooijberg JH, et al (2005) Folates and anti-folates in the treatment of cancer; role of folic acid supplementation on efficacy of folate and non-folate drugs. Trends in Food Science and Technology 16, 289-297.
6. FolateFuncHealth and pan-European project funded by the EU. For more information, visit www.ifr.ac.uk/Folate
7. Jägerstad M. Piironen V. et al (2005) Increasing natural food folates through bioprocessing and biotechnology. Trends in Food Science and Technology 16: 298-306. Finglas PM
8. de Meer K. et al (2005) Research goals for folate and related B-vitamins in Europe. European Journal of Nutrition (in press).