Skip to main content
SLU publication database (SLUpub)
Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2012

Folic acid fortification prevents neural tube defects and may also reduce cancer risks

Jägerstad, Margaretha


The prevalence of neural tube defect (NTD)-affected pregnancies ranges between 0.4 and 2/1000 pregnancies in EU. NTDs result in severe malformations and sometimes miscarriages. Children born with NTD suffer for the rest of their life of disability and chronic healthcare issues, and many women therefore choose termination of pregnancy if NTD is diagnosed prenatally. Women planning for pregnancy are recommended to eat 400 mu g folic acid/d, whereas average figures across Europe indicate intakes of similar to 250 mu g/d for women of fertile age, a gap that could be bridged by implementation of folic acid fortification. The results of mandatory folic acid fortifications introduced in USA and Canada are a decrease between 25 and 45% of NTD pregnancies. Conclusion: Evidence-based NTD prophylaxis is now practised in more than 60 countries worldwide. EU countries worry over possible cancer risks, but ignore a wealth of studies reporting decreasing cancer risks with folate intakes at recommended levels. Currently, there are indications of a U-shaped relationship, that is, higher cancer risks at low folate intakes (<150 mu g/day) and highly elevated folate intakes (>1 mg/day), respectively. However neither the global World Cancer Research review nor EUs European Food Safety Authority report present data on increased cancer risk at physiological folate intake levels. Therefore, EU should act to implement folic acid fortification as NTD prophylaxis as soon as possible.


Benefits; Cancer risks; Folic acid; Fortification; Neural tube defects

Published in

Acta Paediatrica
2012, Volume: 101, number: 10, pages: 1007-1012

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG3 Good health and well-being
    SDG2 Zero hunger

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Public Health, Global Health, Social Medicine and Epidemiology

    Publication identifier


    Permanent link to this page (URI)