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tors of erythrocyte folate levels (Brown et al., 1997). An apparently nonlinear correlation was observed between folate intake from various sources and erythrocyte folate. These results are concordant with those of a controlled experiment in women who were randomly assigned to receive 0, 100, 200, or 400 µg/day of supplemental folate (Daly et al., 1997). In this randomized placebo trial, Daly and coworkers estimated the quantity of additional folate associated with an erythrocyte folate concentration of greater than 870 nmol/L (400 ng/mL), which is the amount previously shown to be associated with a significant reduction in NTD risk. The initial erythrocyte folate concentrations of the women were in the normal range (327 to 870 nmol/L [150 to 400 ng/mL], median 707 nmol/L [325 ng/ mL]). The median incremental changes in erythrocyte folate concentration in the 100-, 200-, and 400-µg/day groups were + 146 nmol/L (67 ng/mL), + 283 nmol/L (130 ng/mL), and + 435 nmol/ L (200 ng/mL), respectively.

The relative effectiveness of different interventions in increasing erythrocyte folate concentrations was evaluated in a 3-month randomized trial in 62 healthy women aged 17 to 40 years in Northern Ireland (Cuskelly et al., 1996). Erythrocyte folate concentrations improved significantly only in the groups taking folate supplements or food fortified with folate; there was no increase in the group provided extra food folate or dietary advice. Because food intake was not controlled, further studies are needed to evaluate more precisely the relative efficacy of different supplementation regimens in reducing NTD risk.

Mechanism. The mechanism by which folate could reduce NTD risk is not known. Increasing folate intake and thus the concentrations of folate derivatives in tissues might overcome a metabolic deficiency in the production of proteins or in DNA synthesis at the time of neural tube closure (Mills et al., 1995). Another hypothesis is that folate does not prevent the occurrence of NTD but selectively increases the abortion rate of affected fetuses (Hook and Czeizel, 1997). Certainly, more research is needed to understand the effect of folate on embryonic and fetal development.

Recommendations for NTD Risk Reduction

To summarize the data, a reduced risk of NTD has been observed for women who took a folate supplement of 360 to 800 µg/day in addition to a dietary folate intake of 200 to 300 µg/day. Folate intake is positively associated with erythrocyte folate concentration

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