For pregnant women the maintenance of erythrocyte folate, which reflects tissue stores, was selected as the primary indicator of adequacy. When this indicator was not measured, serum folate was evaluated with the recognition that hemodilution contributes to a normal reduction in serum folate concentration during gestation. Homocysteine concentrations have not been shown to reflect folate status during pregnancy, possibly because of hormonal changes, hemodilution, or other unknown factors associated with pregnancy (Andersson et al., 1992; Bonnette et al., 1998).
Population-Based Studies. A number of population-based studies confirm that folic acid consumed in conjunction with diet prevents folate deficiency in pregnant women as assessed by maintenance of normal folate concentration in erythrocytes, serum, or both. The folate has been provided either by supplements (Chanarin et al., 1968; Dawson, 1966; Hansen and Rybo, 1967; Lowenstein et al., 1966; Qvist et al., 1986; Willoughby, 1967; Willoughby and Jewel, 1966) or fortified food (Colman et al., 1975) (see Table 8-5).
Willoughby and Jewel (1966, 1968) conducted a series of studies involving approximately 3,500 pregnant women beginning at 12 weeks of gestation who were assigned to different levels of folate supplementation (0, 100, 350, or 450 µg/day). Their dietary folate was estimated to be less than 100 µg/day. A supplementation level of 100 µg/day in conjunction with the low-folate diet was insufficient to prevent deficient (less than 7 nmol/L [3 ng/mL]) serum concentrations in 33 percent of the group (Willoughby and Jewel, 1966) or to prevent megaloblastic anemia in 5 percent of the group (Willoughby, 1967). In contrast, 300 µg/day of supplemental folate was sufficient to maintain a mean serum folate concentration that was comparable with the mean in healthy nonpregnant control subjects (Willoughby and Jewel, 1966) and to prevent megaloblastic anemia (Willoughby, 1967). These data agree with those of Dawson (1966), who found that taking 150 µg/day of folate supplements (beginning at 28 weeks) in addition to diet resulted in low serum folate concentrations (less than 7 nmol/L [3 ng/mL]) in 30 percent of the group at delivery. Also confirming these findings, Hansen and Rybo (1967) reported that 100 µg of folic acid plus diet was not sufficient to prevent serum folate reduction (defined as less than 4 nmol/L [2 ng/mL]) in 15 percent of the group whereas a folate supplement of 500 µg/day resulted in a mean serum folate concentration of 13 nmol/L (6 ng/mL) at 36 to 38 weeks of gestation.