A survey by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology (FNRI-DOST) showed that 20.9 percent (or about 1 in 5) of Filipino women of childbearing age are folate deficient based on red cell folate concentration, while 38.7 percent (or about 2 in 5) are folate deficient based on serum folate.
The study included 13-45 year-old women in the country that were part of the survey sample of the FNRI's 7th National Nutrition Survey (NNS) conducted in 2008.
The two indicators used to determine the folate status of women include red cell folate concentration and serum folate. Red cell folate reflects folate status of an individual over a period of three months, while serum folate indicates recent intake.
In a World Health Organization (WHO) technical consultation on vitamin B12 and folate, experts agreed that folate has a significant role in preventing neural tube malformation in the developing fetus. It also has a part in reducing the risks of cardiovascular disease, some forms of cancer and certain mental health problems.
In addition, folate deficiency causes macrocytic, hyperchromic anemia which may cause weakness, fatigue, loss of appetite and confusion.
A more deleterious effect of folate deficiency during pregnancy is neural tube defects such as anencephaly. In such condition, a baby is born without brain or skull. Other conditions that may form are encephalocele, or when the skull has protrusion of brain tissue, and spina bifida or the defective closure in the vertebral or spinal column.
Congenital malformation, including neural tube defects, is the eighth leading cause of infant mortality in the country, based on the Philippine Health Statistics 2006.
Thus, folate deficiency particularly among women of childbearing age, should be given more attention by nutrition and health authorities to prevent congenital malformation.
Women of reproductive age are at-risk to folate deficiency primarily because of rapid growth during adolescence and pregnancy, which imposes a higher demand for folate.
Folate deficiency arises because of poor dietary habits, malabsorption or altered metabolism.
The FNRI study encourages women of childbearing age, especially those who are planning a pregnancy to eat a healthy, folate-rich diet such as green leafy vegetables, legumes and cereals, oranges, liver and other internal organs.
Further awareness about folate and birth defects should be heightened at the community level so that women would better understand the effects of folate deficiency. ? (CAJavier\ DOST IV-A S&T Media Service)