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European Folic Acid NewsUpdate

March 2009

 

 

 

Report of the Implementation Group on Folic Acid Food Fortification to the Department of Health and Children

Ireland’s Implementation Group on Folic Acid Food Fortification to the Department of Health and Children calls for holding off on a proposal for mandatory Folic Acid fortification until more data is available later this year.

The Implementation Group’s Report, released 11 March, recommends establishing controls for Folic Acid fortification so that no population sub-group is exposed to deficient or excessive intake levels. As the report notes, voluntary food fortification has an uneven distribution within the population. Also, the very nature of a voluntary strategy is that it can be started or stopped at will by the food manufacturer. To ensure the most equitable benefit to the most number of people, we encourage fortification standards to be set and monitored by legislation. We hope that establishing national food fortification standards remains a priority as the new data emerges.

 

Maternal Vitamin B12 Status and Risk of Neural Tube Defects

Folic acid fortification is able to reduce neural tube defect prevalence by 50% to 70%. Since it is unlikely that fortification levels will be increased to reduce neural tube defect prevalence further, Irish researchers set out to identify other modifiable risk factors. They focussed on the vitamin B12, because it is metabolically related to folate and previous studies showed that mothers with a low B12 status early in pregnancy had a higher risk of a child with Spina Bifida. The Irish study confirms these findings. Women with the lowest levels of B12 were almost five times more likely to deliver a child with a neural tube defect. The researchers were also able to show that these higher risks were separate to the known dangers of having low levels of folic acid before getting pregnant and in the first weeks of pregnancy. Read more here and here.

Flour Fortification in Kyrgyzstan

The parliament of Kyrgyzstan voted to require flour producers to fortify top and first grade flour. The president’s signature is needed before the requirement becomes a law. A news release about the parliament’s vote said fortification will not result in substantial price rise for flour, and it noted that “flour fortification with iron is an important component of any public health strategy for the prevention of iron, folic acid and other vitamin and mineral deficiency.” UNICEF, the Asian Development Bank, and other partners have both been involved in fortification efforts there.

 

Folic acid supplements in pregnancy and early childhood respiratory health

Folic acid supplements are recommended for women who are planning to conceive and in early pregnancy to prevent birth defects such as spina bifida. Research from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health has found a slightly increased risk of respiratory disease among infants whose mothers used these supplements. The research, conducted by Siri Håberg and her colleagues, looked at data from more than 30 000 children reaching 18 months of age in the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study, with information collected through questionnaires at several time points. The research results can be found here. Although the research from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health has found a slightly increased risk of respiratory disease among infants whose mothers used these supplements, they still advise the continued use of folic acid. Read more here.

Folic acid supplementation and childhood respiratory health - Commentary by Professors Wald and Morris

Professor Sir Nicholas Wald and Professor Joan Morris from the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine studied the Haberg research and reached a different conclusion. They stated that the slightly increased reporting of respiratory illness in children born to women who took folic acid supplements in early pregnancy was probably due to confounding and does not provide evidence of a causal association. Their commentary can be read here (in PDF).

 

EFSA update on scientific developments regarding Folic Acid

Over 60 scientific experts from the European Union, Switzerland, the United States and Canada gathered at a scientific meeting held in Uppsala on 21-22 January 2009 to discuss and debate the latest scientific developments regarding folate and folic acid. During this meeting, participants shared and discussed the most recent scientific information and data available on the possible relationship between dietary intake of folate and folic acid and cancer risks such as colon, breast and prostate cancer. Read more here.

Professor Sir Nicholas Wald

 

Assessment of studies thought to suggest associations between folic acid and cancers of the colon and breast

Professor Sir Nicholas Wald from the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine also contributed to the scientific meeting in Uppsala. His "Assessment of studies thought to suggest associations between folic acid and cancers of the colon and breast" can be read here (in PDF).

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