Contribution of folic acid to human health and challenges of translating the science into effective policy: A call to action for the implementation of food fortification in Ireland

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Abstract

Over 30 years ago it was proven beyond doubt that folic acid supplementation of mothers in early pregnancy protects against neural tube defects (NTDs) in their babies. Such conclusive scientific evidence led to clear recommendations for women worldwide to take 0.4 mg/d folic acid before conceiving and in early pregnancy, but implementing these into effective policy has been problematic. As a result, there has been no change in the incidence of NTDs in Ireland, the UK or any other European country over the 25-year period that the current strategy, recommending periconceptional folic acid supplements to women, has been in place. Thus preventable NTDs are not being prevented. Notably, in September 2021, the UK government announced that flour is to be fortified with folic acid on a mandatory basis. A similar decision is now urgently needed in Ireland, where rates of NTDs are among the highest in the world. A policy of mandatory folic acid fortification of food would be highly effective in preventing NTDs because it reaches all women, including those who have not planned their pregnancy. International evidence shows that wherever such a policy has been introduced, it has proved to be effective in reducing rates of NTD in that country. Apart from preventing NTDs, the driver of policy in the area, other potential health benefits across the lifecycle can be anticipated from folic acid fortification. Urgent action is needed on implementation of mandatory food fortification with folic acid in Ireland so that mothers and their babies can benefit.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-103
Number of pages13
JournalProceedings of the Nutrtion Society
Volume82
Issue number2
Early online date4 May 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished online - 4 May 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Cambridge University Press. All rights reserved.

Keywords

  • Pregnancy
  • Humans
  • Female
  • Folic Acid
  • Food, Fortified
  • Ireland/epidemiology
  • Neural Tube Defects/prevention & control
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Policy
  • Neural tube defects
  • Folate
  • Folic acid
  • Food fortification

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