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Folic Acid and Vitamin B12 Fortification of Flour: A Global Basic Food Security Requirement

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Abstract

Folic acid is an essential water soluble B vitamin which has been used for decades in the prevention of folate deficiency anemia of pregnancy. In 1991, folic acid taken prior to the start of pregnancy was shown unequivocally to prevent spina bifida and anencephaly—two of the most serious and common birth (neural tube) defects. Soon governments recommended that women of reproductive age consume folic acid daily to prevent these birth defects. Because compliance was low and since more than half of pregnancies are unplanned, the United States Food and Drug Administration mandated in 1998 that all enriched flour be fortified with folic acid at a concentration estimated to give the average woman an intake of 100 micrograms of folic acid a day. Canada and Chile followed with similar requirements for folic acid fortification of wheat flour. Now there is mandatory fortification in more than 50 countries globally.

Where fortification has been implemented and studied, it has led to dramatic increases in serum folate concentrations, reduction in neural tube defects, folate deficiency anemia, as well as the reduction in homocysteine concentrations and stroke mortality with no known risk. Australia implemented mandatory folic acid fortification in 2009. To date, no country in Europe has implemented mandatory folic acid fortification of flour, although it has been recommended by the UK Food Safety Authority. This review discusses the vital importance of mandatory flour fortification with folic acid and vitamin B12, for public health food security and as a challenge to the New Public Health in Europe and globally.

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Correspondence to Godfrey P. Oakley Jr. MD, MSPM.

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Oakley, G.P., Tulchinsky, T.H. Folic Acid and Vitamin B12 Fortification of Flour: A Global Basic Food Security Requirement. Public Health Rev 32, 284–295 (2010) doi:10.1007/BF03391603

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Key Words

  • folic acid
  • vitamin B12
  • food fortification
  • micronutrients
  • birth defects
  • spina bifida
  • neural tube defects
  • anemia
  • homocysteine
  • stroke
  • nutrition