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01st Feb 2018

Folic acid should be added to all bread and flour, claims study

The vitamin helps to prevent certain birth defects.

Anna O'Rourke

Do you take it?

There is “overwhelming” evidence to suggest that folic acid should be added to all bread and flour, a study has found.

This move could prevent “thousands” of deaths and neural tube defects (NTDs) each year, researchers claim.

Women are advised to take folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, before pregnancy and during the first weeks of pregnancy to reduce the risk of NTDs.

These defects include spina bifida and anencephaly and affect around 100 births in Ireland each year.

Folic acid is mandatorily added to flour and bread in over 80 countries worldwide including the US but not in the UK or Ireland.

The study, undertaken at Queen Mary University of London and the School of Advanced Study at the University of London, has found that there is no such thing as ‘too much’ folic acid in the diet, debunking a previous recommendation.

Research previously linked excess consumption of folic acid with diarrhoea, cramps, sleep disorders, confusion, nausea and seizures.

“Failing to fortify flour with folic acid to prevent neural tube defects is like having a polio vaccine and not using it,” said lead author Professor Sir Nicholas Wald from the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine at Queen Mary University.

In Ireland, a national committee on folic acid recommended in 2005 that all bread should refortified with folic acid as Irish women do not get enough of it in their diets, reports the Irish Times.

A 2016 report by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland stated that mandatory fortification of bead and flour here could “reduce the prevalence of NTDs by approximately 30 per cent.”