In Brief

How folic acid in flour can reduce birth defects in babies

Scientists find overwhelming evidence that the vitamin can help reduce birth defects

Health experts are urging the government to help reduce the number of babies born with birth defects by ensuring that folic acid is added to flour - a practice already mandatory in 81 other countries including the US. 

“One in every 500 to 1,000 pregnancies in the UK is affected by life-changing neural tube defects, like anencephaly and spina bifida,” Sky News reports.

“Failing to fortify flour with folic acid to prevent neural tube defects is like having a polio vaccine and not using it,” said Professor Sir Nicholas Wald, the lead author of a new report into the fortification of flour with folic acid, part of the B vitamin family. The research was conducted by experts from Queen Mary University of London and the School of Advanced Study at University of London.

Under the UK’s 1998 Bread and Flour Regulations, white flour is already fortified with iron, calcium and some vitamins, and “researchers say the cost of adding folic acid would be pennies”, the BBC says.

The news site adds that the “idea of mandatory fortification has already been backed by health ministers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but not England”.

The new research, published in the journal Public Health Reviews, “claims evidence for limiting intake of folic acid to no more than 1mg a day is out of date and flawed”.

The 1mg a day limit was “adopted after the findings from the US Institute of Medicine suggested those with vitamin B12 deficiency are at an increased risk of damage to the central and peripheral nervous system when consuming higher doses of folic acid”, says Scottish newspaper The Herald.

But new re-analysis of the data has found no such link.

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