U.S. government decision to add folic acid to enriched
grain products has reduced the incidence of two devastating
birth defects but more needs to be done, according
to recent reports published.
A review of births in 21 states from 1995, a year
before the fortification was authorized, to 2002 found
"significant decreases in the prevalence of spina
bifida and anencephaly," two neural tube defects that
result, respectively, in spine and brain damage, one
But the researchers found a racial disparity, with
children born to black women less likely to be protected,
perhaps because of genetic differences or gaps in
education, the study from the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention and the University of Alabama
"Educational efforts regarding the importance of
consumption of folic acid-containing supplements and
food high in folic acid and natural folate among women
of all racial/ethnic groups should be continued,"
the study recommended.
Folic acid is a B vitamin found in such foods as
leafy green vegetables, beans and orange juice. Enriched
grain products include breads and pasta. Women for
some years have been advised to eat such foods and
also take supplements during pregnancy to avoid neural
The study was published in the September issue of
Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of
Pediatrics, along with a commentary from two physicians
who said the current level of folic acid in enriched
grain products is still too low.
There are 2,000 children born every year in the United
States with defects that could be prevented if the
fortification levels were higher, they said, in addition
to 200,000 such children born around the world yearly
who could have escaped the problems if grain products
generally were more enriched.
Robert Brent of the A.I. duPont Hospital for Children
in Wilmington, Delaware, and Godfrey Oakley of Emory
University in Atlanta, said the current fortification
level should be doubled. It is currently set at 140
micrograms of folic acid per 100 grams of grain.
The March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation concurred
that a higher level is warranted, issuing a statement
saying studies have shown that adequate daily folic
acid intake beginning before pregnancy can reduce
the incidence of such defects by up to 70 percent,
"and we should not settle for anything less than maximum
Reference Source 89