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Folic Acid Fortification Cuts Birth Defects

Adding the nutrient to wheat flour cut Chilean incidence in half

THURSDAY, April 21, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Countries that mandate the fortification of wheat flour with folic acid can bring about steep declines in serious birth defects called neural tube defects, a new study from Chile suggests.

Experts have long known that babies born to women deficient in folic acid are at higher risk for these defects, which include serious problems such as spina bifida and anencephaly, a deformity of the brain.

However, since folic acid fortification of wheat flour began in Chile in January 2000, there's been a significant decline in the incidence of these types of birth defects, according to a study published online April 21 in the American Journal of Medical Genetics Part A.

In the study, Brazilian researchers examined data from before the start of fortification and compared it to data from a two-year period after the start of fortification. They found no significant changes in the incidence of neural tube defects between 1982-1989 and 1990-2000. However, between 2001-2002, the rate of spina bifida decreased by 51 percent and the rate of anencephaly declined by 46 percent.

The study confirms preliminary results observed 20 months after the start of folic acid fortification of wheat flour in Chile. The authors noted that their findings are similar to the results of studies of folic acid fortification of foods in Canada and the United States.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about folic acid.

SOURCE: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., news release, April 21, 2005
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