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Aug 19, 2014

Folic Acid Deficiency Rare in U.S.

Study finds folic acid deficiency is extremely rare, making routine tests unnecessary in the general population.

Folic acid testing is vastly overused, according to a study suggesting that folic acid deficiency is extremely rare in the U.S.

Folic acid is an important B vitamin found in many foods like fruits, vegetables and beans. Not only does folic acid promote healthy cell function, it helps prevent serious birth defects, including spina bifida and anencephaly. That’s why in 1998, the U.S. began fortifying all grain and cereal products with folic acid to help protect Americans from a deficiency. And since then, folic acid deficiency has generally become a thing of the past.

Still, folic acid testing is routinely performed to evaluate conditions like anemia and dementia, leading experts to question its necessity. Most Americans now get enough folic acid to promote good health and performing folic acid tests may be unnecessary in most patients.

To learn more about the issue, researchers looked at more than 84,000 blood tests performed between 2003 and 2013 at a large medical center in Boston. After analysis, they found that two-thirds of patients had normal folic acid levels and nearly one-third of patients had high folic acid levels. Only 47 patients—less than 1% of study participants—were considered to have a folic acid deficiency.

Since folic acid deficiency is so rare in the general population, authors suggest that testing is unnecessary for most individuals. During the 10-year study period, more than $1.6 million was spent on folic acid tests—the results of which were overwhelmingly normal. By eliminating folic acid testing in the general population, authors suggest that we could not only improve patient care by eliminating unnecessary testing, but also save the health care system millions in expenses.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is folic acid?
  • Folic acid is a type of B vitamin that the body needs for good health. Folic acid helps the body make healthy new cells and having enough folic acid before and during pregnancy can help prevent serious birth defects. Research also suggests that folic acid may promote heart health and help prevent certain types of cancer.
  • What foods contain folic acid?
  • Folic acid is contained naturally in certain foods, such as fruits, vegetables and legumes. Grain and cereal products are also fortified with folic acid to ensure that Americans get the recommended daily level of folic acid.

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