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Sun exposure linked to low folate levels

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Women trying to fall pregnant, or who are pregnant, have been cautioned to monitor their sun exposure after new research has linked exposure to the sun’s UV radiation to a decrease in levels of folic acid.

Researchers from the University of Queensland found that UV exposure significantly depleted folate levels.

Nearly 50 women aged between 18 and 47 years were monitored for three weeks by University of Queensland researchers, with each woman given a 500 milligram dose of folic acid to take daily for two weeks.

On the third week, researchers tracked the exposure of each subject to the sun, and measured the folate levels in their blood. They found that the more sun exposure the women had, the lower their folic acid levels.

In fact, researchers found that women who regularly spent time outdoors between 10am and 3pm with little sun protection, had a 20 per cent decrease in folate levels.

Lead researcher Professor Michael Kimlin said that the results were concerning as the benefits of folic acid are well known. He urged 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,” Professor Kimlin said. “The NHMRC recommends pregnant women, or these planning a pregnancy, take 500 milligrams a day.”

Researcher Dr David Borradale said further research, including a controlled clinical trial, was needed.

“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 study was published in the Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B:Biology.

Kirsty Waterford