UK Might Soon Add Folic Acid to Bread

November 2, 2007 at 2:28 pm Leave a comment

It’s been common knowledge for long that folic acid a type of vitamin that is indispensable for everyone’s health, but in the UK, scientists are beginning to lobby for fortifying flour with folic acid.

Scientists of the Institute of Food Research (IFR) in the UK recently made a decision to support this move following new evidence of the benefits of folic acid’s absorption into the body.

In accordance with the IFR, the UK’s Food Standards Agency’s Board says that ‘mandatory fortification’ with folic acid should start as soon as possible, to make sure that babies born with neural tube defects is reduced. This means that folic acid will be added bread and/or flour throughout the UK in the foreseeable future.

Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate, found in a wide variety of foods including liver and green leafy vegetables. Folates are metabolised in the gut, and folic acid is metabolised in the liver. That is what scientists write in a paper to be published in the British Journal of Nutrition. The scientists suggest that the liver entails an easily saturated system. Fortification could lead to significant unmetabolised folic acid entering the blood stream, with the potential to cause a number of health problems, they contend.

“Fortifying UK flour with folic acid would reduce the incidence of neural tube defects”, said Dr Siân Astley of the Institute of Food Research. “However, with doses of half the amount being proposed for fortification in the UK, the liver becomes saturated and unmetabolised folic acid floats around the blood stream.

“This can cause problems for people being treated for leukaemia and arthritis, women being treated for ectopic pregnancies, men with a family history of bowel cancer, people with blocked arteries being treated with a stent and elderly people with poor vitamin B status. For women undergoing in-vitro fertilisation, it can also increase the likelihood of conceiving multiple embryos, with all the associated risks for the mother and babies.

“It could take 20 years for any potential harmful effects of unmetabolised folic acid to become apparent”.

It has already been shown that folic acid forticifation can exhibit Jekyll and Hyde characteristics, providing protection in some people while causing harm to others. For example, studies have confirmed that unmetabolised folic acid accelerates cognitive decline in the elderly with low vitamin B12 status, while those with normal vitamin B12 status may be protected against cognitive impairment. Most over 65s in the UK have low B12 status.

Similarly, dietary folates have a protective effect against cancer, but folic acid supplementation may increase the incidence of bowel cancer. It may also increase the incidence of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.

Since the 1980s a consensus formed that that folic acid is metabolised in the small intestine in a similar way to naturally-occuring folates. This consensus was used to assess the safety of folic acid fortification.

“We challenge the underlying scientific premise behind this consensus”, said Dr Astley. This has important implications for the use of folic acid in fortification, Astley adds. Even at low doses it could lead to over consumption of folic acid with inherent risks.

Entry filed under: Green News.

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