Folate Facts

Page last updated: 06 July 2010

  • Approximately one in 500 babies in Australia is born with a neural tube defect (NTD) such as spina bifida. Spina bifida is one of the most common birth defects in the Western world. About 150 babies are born with spina bifida in Australia each year.
  • Approximately 95 per cent of all NTDs occur with no prior warning or indication that the woman was at risk of having an NTD affected pregnancy.
  • NTDs, such as spina bifida, occur in the first weeks of pregnancy when the brain and spinal cord are forming.
  • Spina bifida means "split or divided spine". It is one of the most serious birth defects. The spinal column doesn't close properly and the baby is born with exposed nerves and damaged vertebrae. The effects are permanent. Children with spina bifida can face paralysis, problems with mobility, muscle control, co-ordination and learning.
  • Seven out of 10 cases - or 70 per cent - of NTDs such as spina bifida can be prevented by women increasing their intake of folate to 0.5mg/day at least one month before conception and for the first three months of pregnancy.
  • Folate is the natural form of this B group vitamin. The tablet form of the vitamin is called folic acid.
  • There are three ways of increasing folate intake: by eating folate rich foods; by including folate fortified foods in the daily diet or by taking a folic acid supplement.
  • Good sources of folate include green leafy vegetables, fruit (citrus, berries and bananas), legumes and some cereals (many breakfast cereals now have added folate).
  • The voluntary fortification of several foods with folate has been permitted in Australia since June 1995.
  • In Australia, mandatory folic acid fortification of all flour used for making bread (except organic bread) came into effect in September 2009. For further information visit the Food Standards Australia New Zealand website.

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