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Will fortifying flour with folic acid be the end of birth defects?

May 8, 2018 by popal

Health ministers across the UK are urging the government to fortify food with Folic acid, to prevent birth defects, as well as the risk of diseases like cancer. 

A new research conducted by Queen Mary university suggested that foods such as bread and flour should be fortified with folic acid, in order to prevent the risk of babies being born neural tube defects, this is because folic acid contains B vitamin which not only helps the body form healthy red blood cells but, more importantly, it reduces the risk of central neural tube defects, such as Spinal bifida in unborn babies. 

The UK Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has advised that 50% of infant deaths, stillbirths, and brain injuries could be avoided by simply fortifying foods with folic acid. Despite this, UK governments have chosen to ignore expert advice to fortify flour with folic acid.    

We spoke to Dr Chris Brook who is the head of the National bakery school at London South bank university. 

Dr.Chris Brock, the head of food sciences at the national bakery school has explained that; “Folic acid is a vitamin, and vitamins are chemicals that we can’t make ourselves and therefore have to consume them, as our body needs them”. 

There are also other sources of food that contain the B vitamin naturally. Spinach, Brussel sprouts, beef liver, asparagus and white rice, are just some of them. You can also find them in forms of supplements in any boots or chemist nearby. However, we spoke to one pregnant lady who thought that folic acid fortification could actually be a bad thing.

However, we spoke to one pregnant lady who thought that folic acid fortification could potentially be a bad thing. She believed that too much intake of folic acid could be just as bad for a pregnant woman, as too much intake of folic acid could lead to other diseases such as diabetes, which she is being checked for currently. 

The US, Canada and some parts of the Europe have made it mandatory for flour to be fortified with folic acid. Since then, more than 70 countries have followed their lead, and neural tube defects have fallen by 25-50%. Canada has shown the most amount of progress, as since, the implementation of flour fortification in 1997, the country’s neural tube defect rates had halved by 2000. 

Health ministers now want UK to fortify flour, like the rest of the world, as concerns have risen after the amount of unplanned pregnancies in the UK. This is due to the fact that folic acid is most important to be taken in the first few weeks of the pregnancy. Researchers believe many women can be protected from NTD and that the cost would just be mere “pennies”. 

A report conducted in 2015 by the British Medical Journal, states that over 2000 pregnancies associated with neural tube defect could have been avoided, if the UK, like the rest of the world followed suit and adopted the fortification system. 

He emphasised that; “Folic acid is particularly important in the early development of the fetus, and if a pregnant woman has a deficiency of folic acid, they are in dangers of neural tube defect”. 

Folic acid is not just good to be taken by pregnant women, but for everyone, as folate operates in red blood cells, which helps us protect and fight against heart disease and breast cancer. Not enough folate in the body also causes a risk of many cancerous diseases like cervical, colon, brain, and lung cancer. It can also cause symptoms such as weakness of the body, extreme fatigue and shortness of breath. 

By Moona Popal




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