Fortifying foods like flour, pasta and cornmeal with folic acid markedly reduces the number of infants born with neural tube defects like spina bifida, say researchers according to a new study. Thus researchers advice pregnant women to take folic acid supplements in early pregnancy when the neural tube is forming. But women also need to maintain adequate levels of folic acid prior to pregnancy.
A recent study compared the number of neural tube defects in babies born in Newfoundland and Labrador -- two areas with some of the highest known rates of neural tube defects in North America -- before and after the requirement went into effect. Between 1991 and 1997 there were an average of 4.36 neural tube defects per 1,000 births in these areas. Between 1998 and 2000, that number dropped to just 0.96 per 1,000 births.
The study also looked at the effect of folic acid fortification on vitamin B12 deficiency in the elderly a condition thought to be masked by extra intake of folic acid. Results found no evidence to indicate the additional folic acid intake was causing this to occur.