Add folic acid to flour to prevent birth defects, doctors tell government
Most women don't take folic acid before they conceive as more than half of pregnancies are unplanned



08:35 GMT, 27 June 2012

Pregnant woman are recommended to start taking folic acid three months before they conceive

Pregnant woman are recommended to start taking folic acid three months before they conceive

Flour should be fortified with folic acid to prevent birth defects in babies such as spina bifida, according to doctors.

UK governments should legislate to require folic acid to be in 'flour and flour-based products,' according to a majority at the British Medical Association's annual conference.

Consultant David Pring from Yorkshire told the meeting earlier on that most women don't receive the benefit of taking folic acid three months before they conceive because more than half of pregnancies in the UK are unplanned.

Fortifying flour could therefore reduce the risk of neural tube defects like spina bifida in thousands of pregnant women. The condition causes a baby's backbone to form incorrectly, often
leading to lower-body paralysis.

Dr Pring said: ‘Fifty per cent of
pregnancies are unplanned, that is 300,000 women a year. That is a lot
of women, a lot of pregnancies.

'If we don’t believe in the prophylaxis (preventative medicine)
we should be campaigning for the removal of vitamin D from margarine.’

He urged the conference to adopt a policy that was in line with Food Standards Agency recommendations and the scientific advisory committee on nutrition.

However, Consultant Protap Gupta from Lincolnshire argued against mandatory fortification, saying that it could have adverse health effects on others.

Dr Gupta said: ‘What is beneficial for one target group may not be good for the whole population.’

Previous research has suggested the human body might struggle to break down folic acid, which is the synthetic form of a B vitamin found in leafy vegetables.

A paper published by the Institute of Food Research in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2007 found
folic acid is broken down by the liver, whereas natural folates are
broken down in the stomach.

Scientists claim a liver flooded with folic acid may end up
releasing it undigested into the blood.

Excess levels of folic acid in the blood have been linked to
bowel and breast cancer, and could accelerate brain decline in some
elderly people.

The scientists said the full impact of putting folic acid in
food may only become apparent in 20 years' time.

Adults are recommended to have 0.2mg of folic acid in their daily diet, however pregnant women should be getting twice as much after stopping contraception up to the 12th week of pregnancy.

So far neither this nor the previous government has acted on medical recommendations to fortify flour.