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Experts agree - benefits of folic acid fortification outweigh risks

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Edgar Diabetes and Obesity Research Centre (EDOR) Co-Director Professor Jim Mann has commented on a New Zealand report that supports folic acid fortification of food.

The Health Benefits and Risks of Folic Acid Fortification of Food report, commissioned by the Ministry of Health and co-authored by former chief science advisor Professor Sir Peter Gluckman and the Royal Society Te Apārangi, found that mandatory folic acid fortification is linked to lower rates of birth defects, and that taking folic acid supplements at the recommended doses in pregnancy had no adverse effects on pregnancy outcome or the child’s health.

Professor Mann noted the unequivocal evidence that adequate levels of folate in the blood of women of childbearing age greatly reduces the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs). Folate occurs naturally in food but most people do not achieve protective levels on an ordinary diet. Therefore, in order to protect babies from NTDs, it is necessary to either take folic acid supplements or to add folic acid to (fortify) a widely used food.

Given that many pregnancies are unplanned, more than 80 countries have now opted for mandatory fortification of certain foods such as flour or bread.  Professor Mann calls on the New Zealand government to follow suit.

"This in-depth report, which takes into account the totality of evidence confirms the benefits of mandatory fortification in terms of reducing NTD risk and that the theoretical possible small effect of folic acid on some cancers (prostate and colon) did not provide a justification for withholding mandatory fortification."

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