Caution urged over folic acid

9 May 2002

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has agreed not to recommend mandatory fortification of bread with folic acid.

Folic acid not only helps the body produce healthy red blood cells, but also helps to reduce the risk of babies developing neural tube defects (NTD), such as spina bifida. This is why women who are trying for a baby are advised to take folic acid supplements.

However, increasing the amount of folic acid eaten could make it harder to spot a deficiency of vitamin B12, which can lead to neurological damage. In November 2001, researchers writing in the British Medical Journal warned that caution was needed before introducing such a policy as for people with epilepsy, folic acid could lead to reductions in the levels of phenobarbitone, primidone and phenytoin.

The FSA agreed to re-examine the issue of vitamin B12 deficiency in relation to older people. There will be further information available in the future as a result of surveillance in countries such as Chile, which has already introduced mandatory fortification.

The FSA nevertheless recognised the clear benefits of fortification in relation to neural tube defects.