In a world-first research involving 45 women, scientists from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) found that UV exposure significantly depleted folate levels in young women.
Those spending time outdoors on regular basis wereexperiencing a20 per cent folate level reduction, the study found.
"This is concerning as the benefits of folic acid are well-known, with health professionals urging young women to take a folic acid supplement prior to and during pregnancy," researcher Michael Kimlin said.
Kimlin said the study, which was the first to investigate the effects of sun exposure on folate levels in women of childbearing age, found women who had high levels of sun exposure had folate levels below those recommended for women considering pregnancy.
"The women at risk were those who were outside during the most UV intense time of the day, between 10am and 3pm, with little sun protection," Kimlin said.
"These were the women who had the highest levels of sun exposure and the lowest levels of folate, whilst not deficient in folate, they were on the lower side of normal," he said.
Kimlin saidthat insufficient folic acid levels was alsoresponsible for miscarriages.
"It would be unfair to solely blame folate levels on birthing issues, but it is definitely one of the contributing factors," he said.
"We hope that through more research we can be one step closer to helping families. A further nationwide study could confirm the university's findings and help find solutions.
"We just couldn't confirm from this study whether that would impact the risk of neural tube defects," he was quoted as saying in an ABC report.
"We need to look if this holds true in very tropical areas, right through to more temperate areas in the southern states of Australia," Kimlin said.
"To ultimately confirm this before a clinical trial is crucial and that's why we need to conduct research with thousands of women before solutions can be mentioned," he said.