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Folic Acid - Is Food Fortification Working?

For a decade, the US Public Health Service have been advocating that neural tube defects could be greatly reduced IF every woman would consume adequate amounts of folic acid before and during any pregnancy. The initial PHS approach to achieve this goal was through public awareness efforts and the bombardment of the medical community with advice to prescribe folic acid supplements.

This approach was successful to some degree, but it was not obtaining the desired end result - a major reduction in the numbers of babies being born with spina bifida and anencephaly. Probably the poor showing occurred because a lot of pregnancies are unplanned, and because the message was being received and implemented too late – after the pregnancy was well underway.

Five years ago, a new approach was introduced in this country. Food processors were mandated to begin adding the vitamin folic acid to most enriched grain products. With this approach, scientist’s predicted that the folic acid in a person’s system would be increased before any pregnancy, and would be there during the time it was most needed – the first trimester of pregnancy.

But is this approach really working? 

Early results are in and they appear to be very promising. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that the number of babies born with spina bifida and anencephaly have fallen by almost 20% since folic acid was added to grain products.

This translates into an additional 800 healthy children being born in the U.S. every year because of this intervention. The CDC is confident that these results will continue to improve. 

(Impact of Folic Acid Fortification of the US Food Supply on the Occurrence of Neural Tube Defects: Honein et al; JAMA; June 20, 2001; 285) 

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