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Folic acid deficiency poses high risk to thousands of babies

Folic acid deficiency poses a high risk to thousands of babies, having already led to countless birth defects, such as spina bifida.

Benjamin Teh, Regal Tribune, Dec 18, 2015

Experts at Queen Mary University of London, Oxford University and Public Health England arrived at this conclusion after conductive extensive research, whose findings were featured in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Thanks to recommendations introduced by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) back in 1996, ever since January 1998, grain products such as bread, cereal, cornmeal, rice, flour and pasta have been supplemented with folic acid, also known as vitamin B9 or vitamin M.

The reason why the federal government decided to fortify food with this compound, normally found in green vegetables and nuts, was linked to the fact that fetal development cannot occur normally in its absence.

More precisely, former studies have indicated that vitamin B9 deprivation can result in neural tube defects, which are birth anomalies affecting the brain or the spinal cord.

The UK Medical Research Council Vitamin Study had previously revealed in 1991 that administering 400 microgram folic acid supplements before and during the course of pregnancy can reduce the number of such disorders by as much as 72%.

However, just around 28% of all expectant mothers in the United Kingdom actually take such vitamins, and no legislation seeking to fortify foods with vitamin B9 has been adopted so far.

Now, study authors have sought to determine the actual consequences of delaying this measure, and discovered that as a result of folic acid deprivation a staggering number of 2,000 babies have died or have suffered severe malformations.

According to study author professor Joan Morris at the Wolfson Institute of Preventative Medicine, failure to consume sufficient quantities of vitamin B has led to spontaneous abortions, stillbirths, a high level of neonatal mortality, as well as long-term or permanent disabilities.

This is the equivalent of around 150 babies per year whose lives have ended or have been greatly disrupted because of being deprived of just one essential ingredient, which could've reduced the number of birth defects by up to 21%.

As study authors explain, the scope of this health crisis is comparable to that which emerged back in 1957, when around 10,000 infants across the world were affected by phocomelia (a congenital disorder consisting in limb malformation).

The reason why this condition known to be exceptionally rare became so widespread was because during fetal development, babies had been exposed to thalomide, a medicine which their mothers had consumed so as to combat morning sickness.

Given that folic acid deficiency has been once again proven entirely hazardous to infants, it is hoped that the British government will also introduce legislation so as to incorporate this synthetic vitamin into grain-based foods.

78 other nations have already implemented this practice, with positive results, the United States for instance experiencing a 23% decrease in the number of neural tube defects.

Such a measure has been proposed on several occasions, by England's Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, as well as by experts from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition or the Food Standards Agency, but little progress has been made in actually turning it into reality.

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