If you've been preparing to get pregnant or are pregnant, chances are you have been beat over the head by doctors, books, and even this blog with the importance of folic acid to your baby's development. And with good reason! Taking folic acid, a B9 vitamin, can prevent spina bifida and other birth defects affecting the brain, spine or spinal cord. Even though it is so important, a new study out of England that looked at 500,000 women, showed that only about one-third of women who had babies actually took folic acid supplements before getting pregnant. So in an effort to prevent babies from developing these sorts of birth defects, England's government is close to making it mandatory for all food manufacturers to add folic acid to white bread. This effort could prevent an estimated 300 babies per year from developing spina bifida and other birth defects.
While saving babies of course sounds like a good thing, there's still debate about fortifying flour with folic acid because it could lead to what some are calling "mass medicating," and there is evidence that even though adding folic acid would be helping pregnant women and their babies, it could be harmful to others. It may mask a vitamin B12 deficiency in the elderly, which can seriously damage the nervous system, and it may be linked to bowel cancer.
Though it is not yet a done deal, health minister Earl Howe has hinted that the government will be making flour fortification mandatory. On average in England and Wales there are 13 pregnancies terminated every week due to neural tube defects and three live births with spina bifida and other conditions, two thirds of which tragedies could be avoided by fortification, which the US has been doing since 1998 (who knew?).
TELL US: Do you think the UK's government should step in and add folic acid to bread to prevent birth defects even if it puts other people's health at risk?
Life with Spina Bifida
Image of bread, wheat and flour courtesy of Shutterstock.