FRIDAY, Aug. 21, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Mandatory fortification of foods with folic acid (vitamin B9) may be unnecessary for new mothers and their babies, Irish researchers report.
Their study of blood samples found that most new moms and babies get enough folic acid from foods that are voluntarily fortified by food companies.
Consuming adequate amounts of folic acid before and during pregnancy helps reduce the risk of certain birth defects, such as spina bifida. As in many other countries, folic acid is voluntarily added to breakfast cereal, bread and other food products in Ireland, but food safety officials there are discussing whether to make such fortification of foods mandatory.
"We set out to explore how much unmetabolized folic acid is present in Irish people exposed to the current range of 'voluntarily' fortified foodstuffs, and to predict the increase in levels should a policy of mandatory fortification be introduced," study leader Mary Rose Sweeney of Dublin City University said in a news release.
She noted that a previous study suggested that excessive folic acid consumption may increase the risk of prostate cancer and more severe adenorectal cancer recurrence.
She and her colleagues analyzed blood samples from 20 mothers and 20 infants and found unmetabolized folic acid present in the majority of samples.
"This implies constant exposure of both normal cells, and potential tumor cells, to this pro-vitamin amongst Irish consumers. In terms of the increase that might arise if mandatory fortification goes ahead, we predict it to be in the region of 12 percent," Sweeney and colleagues wrote.
The potential consequences of over-consumption of folic acid should "be of concern for those with responsibility for drafting legislation in this area," they concluded.
The study appeared this week in the journal BMC Public Health.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about folic acid.