Tuesday 17 September 2019

How folic acid laws would cut birth defect levels here

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Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Failure to introduce mandatory fortification of foods such as bread with folic acid has contributed to the high number of babies who develop birth defects, including fatal foetal abnormalities.

A significant number of parents who receive a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality decide to have a termination.

However, a study led by the HSE Intelligence Unit showed that a national audit of neural tube defects in babies found no decline between 2009 and 2011.

These defects are potentially preventable in two-thirds of cases by ensuring the pregnant woman has a correct intake of folic acid.

A neural tube defect can include the condition of anencephaly, a fatal foetal abnormality.

The study in the 'Irish Medical Journal' found that mandatory fortification of foods with folic acid in the United States had reduced the number of neural tube defects by 30pc there and more so in Canada.


Current Irish recommendations are that women who are pregnant, thinking of trying to have a baby or likely to become pregnant should take a 0.4mg (400 micrograms) folic acid supplement until the 12th week of pregnancy.

This reliable and informative research has added to the weight of evidence to bring about a change in policy in the mandatory, rather than voluntary, fortification of flour with folic acid.

The time around conception and the first 12 weeks of pregnancy are known to be an important time for the development of the brain and spinal cord.

Crucially, folic acid supplementation at this time decreases the risk of defects such as spina bifida.

In the US, the compulsory fortification of flour with 140mg of folic acid per 100g of enriched cereal grain product was introduced in 1998. This has been estimated to provide 200mg of folic acid a day to women of childbearing age.

Women are advised to take sufficient folic acid supplements if they are at risk of getting pregnant, even if they are not planning a family.

Irish Independent

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