a1 The Northern Ireland Centre for Food and Health (NICHE), School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Ulster, Coleraine BT52 1SA, Northern Ireland
a2 Department of Immunology and Biochemistry, Trinity College, Dublin 2, Ireland
Folate and the metabolically related B-vitamins, vitamin B12 and riboflavin, have attracted much scientific and public health interest in recent years. Apart from a well established role in preventing neural tube defects (NTDs), evidence is emerging to support other potential roles for folate and/or related B-vitamins in protecting against cardiovascular disease (especially stroke), certain cancers, cognitive impairment and osteoporosis. However, typical folate intakes are sub-optimal, in that although adequate in preventing clinical folate deficiency (i.e. megaloblastic anaemia) in most people, they are generally insufficient to achieve a folate status associated with the lowest risk of NTDs. Natural food folates have a limited ability to enhance folate status as a result of their poor stability under typical cooking conditions and incomplete bioavailability when compared with the synthetic vitamin, folic acid (as found in supplements and fortified foods). Current folate recommendations to prevent NTDs (based primarily on folic acid supplementation) have been found to be ineffective in several European countries. In contrast, in North America and Chile, the policy of mandatory folic acid-fortification has proven itself in terms of lowering the prevalence of NTD, but remains controversial because of concerns regarding potential risks of chronic exposure to high-dose folic acid. In the case of vitamin B12, the achievement of an optimal status is particularly difficult for many older people because of the common problem of food-bound B12 malabsorption. Finally, there is evidence that riboflavin status is generally low in the UK population, and particularly so in younger women; this warrants further investigation.