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This page was published on 30/07/2007
Published: 30/07/2007

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Published: 30 July 2007  
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National folic acid recommendations confuse European consumers

Wide variations across Europe with regard to recommendations for intake of folic acid and other micronutrients are confusing consumers, according to a Preliminary Survey presented recently at the European Congress of Nutrition in Paris. The survey was undertaken by researchers from Wageningen University on behalf of the EURRECA Network of Excellence. ‘Individual countries convene expert panels and review their national guidance on recommendations for micronutrients at different times, which means they are often not working with the same or most up-to-date scientific information. This results in national recommendations being out of ‘sync’ with each other’, says EURRECA partner, Professor Lisette de Groot, from the University of Wageningen (the Netherlands) and one of the authors of the report.

In the case of folic acid, discrepancies exist between the state-of-the-art scientific opinion and the standard nutrient recommendations in government reports. © Matt+
In the case of folic acid, discrepancies exist between the state-of-the-art scientific opinion and the standard nutrient recommendations in government reports.
The situation is further confused by countries using different standards and definitions when drawing up their recommendations. Some Member States group all adults together, while others produce separate advice for men and women. There is also discrepancy in the age ranges used for babies and children.

The widely differing recommendations in official guidance are demonstrated in the case of folic acid. This is the result of a dramatic increase in scientific knowledge surrounding this micronutrient in the last few years. ‘In folic acid, discrepancies exist between the state-of-the-art scientific opinion and the standard nutrient recommendations in government reports,’ states EURRECA partner Professor Helene McNulty, an expert in folic acid from the University of Ulster (UK). ‘Scientists now universally agree that women of child-bearing age wishing to become pregnant should aim towards an additional 400mcg a day to combat neural tube defects in their babies.’

This information is not included in many standard national documents because they currently only provide recommendations for non-pregnant women and pregnant women, rather than women hoping to become pregnant. In a similar way, the standard adult recommendation for folic acid (for men and women) has not yet taken into consideration the role that this vitamin has been found to play in reducing homocysteine, a significant risk factor in heart disease and strokes.

‘Variations in official scientific advice across Europe are confusing for policy-makers and health professionals, never mind consumers who need to have confidence in the nutritional advice found in official documents,’ says Dr Loak Pijls, Senior Scientist at the International Life Sciences Institute Europe and coordinator of the EURRECA Network of Excellence. The Network, which includes 34 organisations in 17 countries, has been set up by the European Commission to deal with such discrepancies, working towards a framework of harmonised guidance on micronutrients. EURRECA will, therefore, facilitate the fast ‘tracking’ of major recommendations into national policy across the European Union.

‘With increasingly mobile populations across Europe, it is crucial that these discrepancies in nutrition advice are addressed. Individuals, particularly during pregnancy, childhood and old age, must have access to "state-of-the-art" nutrition advice that supports their health and well-being,’ underlines Dr Pijls.

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EURRECA Network of Excellence
'Folic acid - time to fortify?'





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