New UF study shows value of folate for older women

May 21, 2000

In a new study, the first ever to measure the amount of folate needed by older women, University of Florida nutritionists say consuming folate-rich foods daily can benefit women well into their golden years.

"For the past decade, women of childbearing age have been encouraged to take extra folic acid to reduce the risk of birth defects," said Lynn Bailey, professor of human nutrition with UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. "Our study provides evidence that folate also plays a role in reducing a risk factor for heart disease in older women."

Results of the UF study will be published in the June issue of the Journal of Nutrition.

"Many of today's baby boomers are not aware of which foods contain this water-soluble vitamin and the potential health benefits of folate," said Bailey, who co-directed the study.

In the 14-week study, 33 postmenopausal women ages 63 to 85 consumed a folate-rich diet, consisting of orange juice and foods fortified with folic acid, containing the daily 400 microgram recommended intake for folate. The conclusion shows these folate foods significantly decreased levels of homocysteine, a risk factor for heart disease -- the No. 1 killer of postmenopausal women.

"Since the 400-microgram recommendation for folate was based on studies of younger women, we estimated the amount of folate needed for elderly women, largely because of growing research suggesting adequate folate may be associated with a lowered risk for chronic disease," said Bailey, who has conducted folate research for the past 22 years.

A recent report based on a survey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicates folate intakes need to be improved in select groups of women in the U.S. population. But obtaining sufficient quantities of folate is easy, according to Gail Kauwell, UF associate professor of human nutrition who also co-directed the study.

"Food sources containing natural folate include orange juice, the most popular source of natural folate in the American diet, as well as dark green leafy vegetables, strawberries, peanuts, beans and legumes," Kauwell said.

Since 1998, the Food and Drug Administration has required certain foods to be fortified with folic acid, including bread, cereal, pasta, flour, crackers and rice.

While fortified foods and folic acid supplements are recommended for women of reproductive age, Bailey advises women of all ages to include foods naturally high in folate in their diet.

"Foods naturally containing folate also provide many other nutrients women need, playing a crucial role in a healthy diet," Bailey said. "For example, along with being a good source of folate, orange juice also offers vitamin C, potassium, and phytochemicals also linked to better health."

Janet Helm, a Chicago-based nutritionist and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association said folate has consistently been one of the problem nutrients in the American diet. "With this new UF study, there's even more reason to focus on getting more folate from food," she said.
-end-
Sources:
Gail Kauwell 352-392-1991 ext. 227, gpk@gnv.ifas.ufl.edu
Janet Helm 312-988-2343, jhelm@bsmg.com

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University of Florida

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