UK experts are backing the call for flour to be fortified with folic acid – a move which they say would have prevented about 2,000 cases of serious birth defects since 1998. The failure to fortify flour has caused serious disabilities, including spina bifida, and resulted in terminations and stillbirths, their study said. The Scottish government has urged UK ministers to take a quick decision on the issue in order to agree a uniform approach across the UK. This follows the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition recently saying it was in favour of folic acid being added to flour for bread in the UK.
Folic acid is found naturally in some foods, such as green vegetables, nuts and granary bread. It is added to some breakfast cereals, but it is very difficult for pregnant women to get enough from diet alone. That is why in 1992, the Department of Health in England recommended that women take folic acid supplements before pregnancy to reduce their risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect (NTD) – which involve defects of the brain, spine or spinal cord. But recent research shows that only 28% of pregnant women take them at the correct time. However, the government has so far been reluctant to force manufacturers to add folic acid to all bread.
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said too many women had folic acid levels below the new World Health Organization recommendation for women entering pregnancy. “This highlights the importance for pregnant women, and those trying or likely to get pregnant, of taking a daily folic acid supplement of 400 micro grams – before and up to the 12th week of pregnancy.”
Prof Alan Cameron, vice-president of clinical quality for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said: “Food fortification will reach women most at risk due to poor dietary habits or socio-economic status as well as those women who may not have planned their pregnancy.”
Information from the BBC Healthcare website.