Folate and the Effects of Prenatal Alcohol on the Brain



Both folate deficiency and prenatal alcohol exposure are factors that affect the development of the brain, inducing severe malformation of the brain and/or impairment of brain functioning and behavior. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can cause a wide array of disorders in the fetal brain, from subtle changes in intelligence to profound mental retardation, which can be manifested as severe damage in learning capabilities or impaired adaptation abilities for their environments. Folic acid supplementation has positive effects on some of the brain dysfunctions that prenatal alcohol exposure can cause, since alcohol consumption decreases the absorption of folate, which is important for DNA and protein synthesis in brain tissues undergoing rapid growth and differentiation. In addition, the protective effects of folic acid and Vitamin B12 together seem better than either vitamin alone. The possible reasons might be that folic acid and Vitamin B12 are metabolically interdependent, therefore additional supplementation with Vitamin B12 may enhance the utilization and biologic effects of folic acid. However, it is notable that the simplest and most effective way to prevent brain malformation and disorders related to fetal alcohol exposure is to be far away from alcohol during pregnancy. Luckily, folate exists widely in foods, both plant and animal. It is abundant in green leafy vegetables, and liver and liver products also contain high amounts of folate, as does baker’s yeast.


Neural Tube Defect Alcohol Exposure Folic Acid Supplementation Folate Deficiency Fetal Alcohol Syndrome 



Brain-derived neurotrophic factor


Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System


Central nervous system


Deoxyribonucleic acid


Deoxidized uridine monophosphate


Deoxidized thymidine monophosphate


Flavine adenine dinucleotide


Methionine synthetase




Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase


Red blood cell


Recommended nutrient intake


Ribonucleic acid


S-adenosyl homocysteine


S-adenosyl methionine




Thymidylate synthetase


Uracil DNA glycosylase


Vitamin B12



This work was supported by the Natural Science Foundation of Beijing (No. 7092060).


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Nutrition and Food Hygiene, School of Public HealthPeking University Health Science CenterBeijingChina

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