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Folic acid should be added to bread on a mandatory basis, the Food Standards Agency has advised government. It says the move could cut the number of babies being born with spina bifida by nearly two thirds, as the vitamin plays a key role in foetal development. Women are advised to take supplements before becoming pregnant, but many do not do so, or take them too late.

Research has linked folic acid to a raised cancer risk, but the FSA said the evidence was not convincing. The US and Canada started fortification of bread flour in the late 1990s, and some of the subsequent research has pointed to an increase in cases of bowel cancer. However the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, which advises the FSA, said this evidence was insubstantial and that any increase in cases could be down to improved screening. It did, however, recommend that those deemed to be at greater risk of colon cancer should receive precautionary advice on taking extra supplements containing folic acid, and that the situation should be monitored.

Unplanned pregnancies

Last month there were calls for all Scottish women to take folic acid – even those not planning a family – after 15 babies were born with the condition since the start of the year.

Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate, a B vitamin found in a wide variety of foods including liver and green leafy vegetables. The body cannot store it, so it must be ingested daily via supplements or folate-rich foods. The vitamin is known to prevent neural tube defects in foetuses, but many women do not take it – in part because pregnancies are often unplanned and can go unnoticed for many weeks.

As well as cutting the incidence of spina bifida, latest research from Canada also suggests it can reduce the risk of congenital heart problems in babies. But while cereal has long been fortified, suggestions that bread should be supplemented have been rejected by those who argue it is tantamount to mass medication. The FSA’s advice has been sent to the UK’s chief medical officer – Sir Liam Donaldson, who is known to be an advocate of fortification. Legislation would be needed however for the move to go ahead.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “We will now consider their recommendation for the introduction of mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid alongside controls on voluntary fortification.”

You can read the article on the BBC website here – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/8315836.stm

For more information on the Herbalife products containing Folic Acid, please contact us or visit our online store to browse the full product range.

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