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UV Sun Rays Can Reduce Folate Levels

Update Date: Mar 21, 2014 09:34 AM EDT

Folic acid is a B vitamin that can help prevent major birth defects in an infant's brain or spine. Women are recommended to increase their intake of foods high in folic acid or supplement the vitamin into one's diet if they are planning on getting pregnant or are already pregnant. In a new study, researchers examined the effects of ultraviolet (UV) rays on folate levels in young women. They found that women who are exposed to sunlight more often tend to have lower levels of folate.

"This is concerning as the benefits of folic acid are well-known, with health professionals urging young women to take a folic acid supplement prior to and during pregnancy," Professor Michael Kimlin said reported in the University's news release. "Folate has been found to reduce miscarriage and neural tube defects such as spina bifida in unborn babies. The NHMRC (National Health and Medical Research Council) recommends pregnant women or those planning a pregnancy take 500 micrograms a day.

For this study, the team from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane, Australia, made up of Professor Kimlin and Dr. David Borrodale, examined 45 young women. The women were between the ages of 18 and 47, and were considered healthy. The researchers found that women who were outdoors from 10am to 3pm with little sun protection had lower levels of folate than women with less sun exposure. The researchers noted that these women's folate levels were just slightly lower than normal but were not deficient.

"We are not telling women to stop taking folate supplements, but rather urging women to talk to their doctor about their folate levels and the importance of folate in their diet, especially those who are planning a pregnancy," Dr. Borradale said.

"The results of this study reinforce the need for adequate folate levels prior to and during pregnancy."

The researchers hope to find more evidence supporting this relationship in a controlled clinical trial. The study, "Exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation is associated with decreased folate status in women of childbearing age," was published in the Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B: Biology.

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