Addressing optimal folate and related B vitamin status through the lifecycle: health impacts and challenges

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The functional effects of folate within C 1 metabolism involve interrelationships with vitamin B 12, vitamin B 6 and riboflavin, and related gene-nutrient interactions. These B vitamins have important roles throughout life, from pregnancy, through childhood, to middle and older age. Achieving optimal nutritional status for preventing folate-related disease is challenging, however, primarily as a result of the poor stability and incomplete bioavailability of folate from natural food sources when compared with the synthetic vitamin form, folic acid. Thus, in European countries, measures to prevent neural tube defects (NTD) have been largely ineffective because of the generally poor compliance of women with folic acid supplementation as recommended before and in early pregnancy. In contrast, countries worldwide with mandatory folic acid fortification policies have experienced marked reductions in NTD. Low vitamin B 12 status is associated with increased risk of cognitive dysfunction, CVD and osteoporosis. Achieving optimal B 12 status can be problematic for older people, however, primarily owing to food-bound B 12 malabsorption which leads to sub-clinical deficiency even with high dietary B 12 intakes. Optimising B-vitamin intake may be particularly important for sub-populations with impaired folate metabolism owing to genetic characteristics, most notably the 677C→T variant in the gene encoding the enzyme methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR). This common folate polymorphism is linked with several adverse health outcomes, including stroke, however, recent evidence has identified its novel interaction with riboflavin (the MTHFR cofactor) in relation to blood pressure and risk of developing hypertension. This review addresses why and how the optimal status of folate-related B vitamins should be achieved through the lifecycle.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)449-462
Number of pages14
JournalProceedings of the Nutrition Society.
Issue number3
Early online date3 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Aug 2019


  • Folate
  • folic acid
  • vitamin B12
  • riboflavin
  • human health
  • Human health
  • Vitamin B
  • Riboflavin
  • Folic acid
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin B-12


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