[Folic acid and congenital malformation: scientific evidence and public health strategies].Ann Ig. 2008 Nov-Dec; 20(6):519-30.AI
In Italy at least 3% of babies are born with some congenital malformation. The intake of folic acid (FA) prior to conception and during the early stages of pregnancy plays an important role in preventing neural tube defects, severe anomalies of brain embryogenesis, and other malformations such as cardiac and urinary tract anomalies, oro-facial clefts and limb reduction defects. The Italian Network for Folic Acid Promotion, coordinated by the National Center on Rare Diseases of the Italian National Institute of Health, has elaborated and diffused a recommendation for the periconceptional FA supplementation: "Women of child-bearing age, are recommended to consume 0,4 mg/day of FA, to reduce the risk of congenital defects. The intake of folic acid should start at least one month before the conception and should continue for the first quarter of pregnancy". This paper discusses various strategies in order to promote FA intake during periconceptional period. Food fortification, adopted in several countries such as USA, has raised concerns about the risk of an excessive FA intake which may lead to adverse effect such as tumour promotion. Currently, periconceptional supplementation and healthy dietary habits promotion appear to be the most effective strategies.