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Folic acid

Folic Acid Fortification: One Size May Not Fit All

Sunday, December 09, 2007 by: J. R. Schaumloeffel
Tags: folic acid, fortified foods, fortification

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(NewsTarget) To fortify or not to fortify? This is now being questioned. Two recently published articles take a look at the results of mandatory folic acid fortification and call for a more in depth study of the side effects of this program.

Folic Acid has been a required enrichment in the United States to breads, flours, cereals, corn meals, pastas, rice and other grain products since 1998. This addition of folic acid, a synthetic chemical of the naturally occurring B-9 vitamin folate, was specifically requested to reduce birth defects of the spinal cord and central nervous system.

In two recently published papers in the Nutrition Reviews, scientists are taking a closer look at the side effects caused by this fortification.

The first paper (1) discusses that the “one size” method of fortification does not meet the needs of everyone. It can help some while harming others at the same time. Folic needs are dependant on a person’s age, gender and whether they are pregnant. Dr. Solomons, the author, recommends that the fortification program needs to be closely reviewed. He suggested that certain foods targeted for pregnant women be fortified while other foods, where fortification is optional, be reduced for the general public. Because of the 20% reduction of spinal cord related birth defects after mandatory fortification, forty-two other countries have jumped on the fortification bandwagon. Dr. Solomons cautioned that careful review of these programs needs to be made to consider the benefits and risks of folic acid fortification.

In the second paper (2), Dr. Young-In Kim looks at the correlation between what age a person gets high folic acid intakes and the rate of colon cancer. He said children and young adults benefit from the life long anti-cancer protection in the large intestines.

Older adults do not get this same benefit. Instead, the folic acid fortification seems to aggravate and spur on the incidence of cell damage, causing tumors to develop. Folic acid fortification has been hailed as one of the greatest achievements in public health. But the findings presented by Dr. Joel Mason and colleagues state otherwise (3).

Dr. Mason reported an increase in colon cancer of four to six cases for every 100,000 individuals every year since the introduction of fortification. This increase is independent of cancer screening and chance. The reversal of the 15-year decrease in cases of colon cancer coincided with the introduction of folic acid fortification. These rates have not returned to the pre-fortification rates but still remain high. It is believed that high doses of folic acid acts as a growth stimulant in individuals that do not know they have pre-cancerous or cancerous cells.

An alternative to artificial folic acid would be to get the needed natural folate from foods such as spinach, turnip greens, dried beans and peas, sunflower seeds and liver. Other good sources of folate include asparagus, bananas, melon, lemons, yeast and mushrooms. A table of what foods are good sources of folate can be found on the USDA National Nutrient Database. (http://www.ars.usda.gov/Main/docs.htm?docid=15869)

It is also recommended that a daily B-complex supplement be taken which contains at least 400 mcg of B-9 as well as biotin, thiamine, B12, riboflavin and niacin (http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/id/ART02809) .


1. Nutrition Reviews, Volume 65, Number 11, November 2007, pp. 512-515
2. Nutrition Reviews, Volume 65, Number 11, November 2007, pp. 504-511
3. Tufts University, Health Sciences, 2007, July 13. Risks And Benefits Of Folic Acid Fortification Considered. Science Daily.

About the author

Jill R. Schaumloeffel has been an avid follower of alternative medicine and nutrition ever since she discovered homeopathy while living in Germany. She has used “old-fashioned” herbal remedies, good nutrition and sot the consultation of alternative practitioners to keep her family in good health. She has a degree in electrical engineering and uses her technical writing skills to write about nutrition and alternative therapies. For more information see www.jrschaum.com.

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