Folate Levels Reduced by UV Exposure Among Young Women

B Vitamin Supplement TabletsAlthough adequate sunlight is necessary for the body to synthesize vitamin D, women who are trying to conceive or who are pregnant and taking a folic acid supplement may be at risk of reducing folate levels through sun exposure, suggests a new study published in the Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B:Biology.

Folic acid is a form of the water-soluble vitamin B9 that helps the body make healthy new cells. Folate, the naturally occurring form of the vitamin, is available through food sources such as spinach and other dark leafy greens, liver, yeast, asparagus, and Brussels sprouts. The synthetic form, folic acid, is found in fortified foods and supplements.

Taking folic acid supplements before and during pregnancy significantly reduces the risk of a neural tube defects (NTD), which are birth defects of the brain, spine, or spinal cord such as spina bifida and anencephaly.

For the present study, researchers at Queensland University of Technology in Australia studied 45 young healthy women in Brisbane between the ages of 18 and 47. The women took 500μg of folic acid daily for two weeks. The researchers then assessed folate levels in the blood of the women, accounting for sun exposure over seven days.

According to the study, high rates of sun exposure accounted up to a 20 per cent reduction in folate levels.

States Professor Michael Kimlin of the AusSun Research Lab at QUT:

“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. Folate has been found to reduce miscarriage and neural tube defects such as spina bifida in unborn babies. The NHMRC recommends pregnant women or those planning a pregnancy take 500 micrograms a day.”

The present study is the first to investigate the relationship between folate levels and UV exposure, finding that women with high levels of sun exposure had folate levels below levels recommended for women considering pregnancy.

Adds Prof. Kimlin:

“The women at risk were those who were outside during the most UV intense time of the day, between 10am and 3pm, with little sun protection. These were the women who had the highest levels of sun exposure and the lowest levels of folate, whilst not deficient in folate, they were on the lower side of normal.”

Concludes Dr. David Borradale, also of the AusSun Research Lab at QUT, on the findings of the present study:

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

Another recent study found that less than one in three women supplement with folic acid before pregnancy.


Exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation is associated with a decreased folate status in women of childbearing age:
Folate levels in young women reduced by UV exposure:

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