- Folic acid intake during pregnancy prevents birth defects of
the brain and spine in an unborn baby.
- The diet of Hispanic mothers does not contain sufficient
amounts of folic acid.
- FDA recommends adding folic acid in corn masa flour which is
used to make staple food for Mexicans to prevent neural tube defects.
acid is believed to prevent neural tube defects like anencephaly and spina
bifida and is added to cereal grains for fortification. According to Center for
Disease Control (CDC), Hispanics still produce babies with these birth defects.
main cause of this may be that the staple diet of these women
is based on foodstuffs made out of corn masa flour. Therefore, Food
and Drug Authority (FDA) has approved the addition of folic acid to this flour,
also known as masa, Spanish for dough.
Folic Acid and Pregnancy
is a vitamin of the B-complex series. It helps the body in the production of red blood cells, and the synthesis and repair of DNA. When taken during pregnancy, it helps in the cell growth of the placenta as well the developing baby in the womb.
Folic acid is also required for the proper closure of the neural tube in the unborn
baby as DNA biosynthesis and methylation reactions which are required for this
process are dependent on folic acid. An insufficiency of the same therefore
leads to neural tube defects which manifest as anencephaly (neural tube fails
to close at the head end, resulting in the absence of scalp and some part of the brain) or spina bifida
(neural tube fails to close at the tail end, resulting in underdeveloped spinal
cord and backbone).
‘FDA approves the addition of folic acid to corn masa flour which is used in the preparation of Mexican food like tacos, tortillas, and tamales, to avoid birth defects in their babies.’
These birth defects
occur between 20-28 days of conception and women usually do not even know by that time that they are expecting. The CDC, thus, recommends that women must start taking folic acid
at least a month before they are planning to conceive and all through the first trimester. This reduces the incidence of these birth defects by up to 70%.
pregnancies are unplanned. Keeping this in mind, CDC recommends all women of
the child-bearing age to ensure an intake of 400 mcg of folic acid daily. It
may be taken through a multivitamin supplement prescribed by a doctor or
acid is also known to lower the incidence of other birth defects like cleft
lip, cleft palate, and defects of the heart.
In 1998, FDA recommended the addition of folic acid to enriched cereal grains (rice and flour) and enriched cereal grain products (bread and macaroni). Many of the cereal grain products now contain the whole Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) in a single serving. The rationale behind it was that cereal grains and cereal grain products
are routinely consumed by the majority of the population, including pregnant women. This would ensure intake of folic acid in pregnancy. This actually resulted in a significant lowering of the incidence of birth defects in most populations.
The Need to Add Folic Acid in Corn Masa
Hispanic women are 20% more likely to give birth to babies with neural tube defects than
non-Hispanic women. "Many Hispanic women don't benefit from the folic acid in
cereal grain products because those products are not a mainstay of their
regular diets - which often are corn masa-based," said Jonca Bull, Director of the FDA Office of Minority Health.
staple food of Mexican and Central and South American diets consists of
tortillas, tacos, and tamales. These items are made up of corn masa
flour which is prepared by cooking corn in alkali and then grinding it into a
The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), Spina Bifida Association, National Council of La Raza, March of Dimes Foundation, Royal DSM N.V., and the Gruma Corporation petitioned to the FDA for the addition of folic acid to corn masa flour. FDA ensured the safety of the vitamin for pregnant women as well as the rest of the population by conducting a scientific review. It also verified the stability of the compound during the production process. Once it was completed, FDA approved the addition of folic acid to fortify corn masa flour
in a quantity up to 0.7 mg per pound of masa flour.
there is not much data available from other countries who have fortified corn
masa flour with folic acid regarding the incidence of birth defects, yet the
significant reduction in the incidence of neural tube defects in
the USA after enriching cereal grains/products, it sounds
rational that this step may have a similar result.
organizations that filed a petition for the addition of folic acid in masa
flour are thrilled at the announcement and believe that it shall address and
remove the ethnic disparity and offer a healthy life to Hispanic mothers and
- Adding Folic Acid to Corn Masa Flour May Prevent Birth Defects
- Cereals that Contain 100% of the Daily Value (DV) of Folic Acid
- Coalition Petitions FDA to Fortify Corn Masa Flour With Folic Acid
- Fortification of Corn Masa Flour With Folic Acid in the United States