A new Canadian study has found that fortifying food with folic acid can greatly reduce the incidence of spina bifida and other birth defects.
The study, published in the latest issue of BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, found a 78% reduction in the number of babies born with neural tube defects in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador after the Canadian government made it mandatory in 1998 that folic acid had to be added to pasta, flour and cornmeal.
Supplementation increased by 11%
Historically, Newfoundland and Labrador has had among the highest rates of neural tube defects in North America. After folic fortification was introduced, the dietary intake of folic acid increased by an average of 70mcg per day among women of childbearing age who took part in the study. The incidence of neural tube defects in the province went from an average of 4.36 defects per 1,000 births between 1991 and 1997 to an average of 0.96 defects per 1,000 births between 1998 and 2001.
The study noted that over the study period, the number of women aged 19 to 44 who took folic acid supplements increased from 17% to 28%. The authors noted that it wasn't possible for their study to determine the separate contributions of folic acid supplement use and food fortification to the province's reduction of neural tube defects.
1. S. Liu; et al., "A Comprehensive Evaluation of Food Fortification with Folic Acid for the Primary Prevention of Neural Tube Defects," BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 2004: 4:20.