There are fresh calls for the government to fortify flour with folic acid in the UK to help protect babies from common birth defects after a new study found there is no need for an upper limit of folate intake.
Britain’s failure to legislate to make food producers fortify flour with folic acid to help prevent babies being born with birth defects is based on flawed analysis and should be reversed, scientists said on Wednesday.
The study, by Queen Mary University of London and the School of Advanced Study, University London, shows that the maximum suggested intake of folate (1mg/day) is based on ‘flawed’ analysis.
“There is clear evidence that fortification will prevent approximately half of all neural tube defects, such as anencephaly and spina bifida. There are around 1,000 diagnoses of neutral tube defects in utero in the UK, 85% of which result in an abortion. This accounts for around 1 in 200 abortions in the UK, many of which will be in the second trimester of pregnancy. In addition, a recent systematic review has demonstrated that periconceptual folic acid supplementation will reduce the risk of a baby being born small for gestational age, and therefore the theoretical risk of stillbirth.
“The RCOG has long supported fortification of flour with folic acid as a public health measure to prevent neural tube defects in babies. This simple measure will reach women most at risk in our society who have poor dietary and socioeconomic status, as well as those women who may not have planned their pregnancy. We continue to recommend that all women take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily whilst attempting to conceive, until their 12th week of pregnancy.
“If the UK government decided to add folic acid to flour it would prevent countless family tragedies. Governments in Scotland and Wales are already united in calling for this important change.”
Urging the UK to follow more than 80 other countries, including the United States, who have mandatory fortification, the scientists said there was no need for an upper limit on folate intake because there is no risk of harmful overdose.
Deficiency in folate, by contrast, can cause pregnant women to have babies with serious birth defects called anencephaly and spina bifida. Also known as neural tube defects, the conditions affect 1 in 500-1,000 pregnancies in Britain.