5th October 2011

A Queensland University of Technology (QUT) study will investigate the link between sun exposure people receive and the reduction of the vitamin folate in humans.

David Borradale a postgraduate student at the QUT Faculty of Health who's conducting the study, said recent research and laboratory studies had shown ultraviolet radiation from the sun reduced folate levels.

Folate is important in many areas of human health and is particularly important for pregnant women in the prevention of spina bifida in unborn children.

Spina bifida involves the incomplete development of the spinal cord in the foetus and can also lead to foetal brain development being limited.

Spina bifida is contracted within the first month of pregnancy, often before a woman even knows she's pregnant, so understanding how sunlight may impact this aspect of women's health is important.

Mr Borradale said the QUT research could have major health implications especially for women planning a pregnancy and for the amount of sun exposure that they should receive.

"We want to determine if everyday sun exposure causes significant reductions in blood folate levels," he said.

The three week long study from October 17 will involve 60 women, none of whom will be pregnant. They'll be split into two groups, one exposed to the sun and the other not.

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All women taking part in the study will receive a daily folic acid supplement for the first two weeks of the study.

Mr Borradale said there were many variables when it came to determining the impact of sun exposure, not least of all a person's location and associated differences in sun intensity.

"For example, people living in the tropics are potentially exposed to more intense sunlight than those living in lower latitudes," Mr Borradale said.

"It's early days for this research but it's hoped that we will gain a better understanding of the role the sun plays in reducing folic acid."

For information or to be involved in the study contact David Borradale at david.borradale@qut.edu.au or phone 0405 804 680. All participants taking part in the study will receive a coffee voucher and go in the draw to win an iPad2.

Media contact: Rose Trapnell, QUT media officer, 07 3138 2999 or rose.trapnell@qut.edu.au

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