Tag: fortification

What is folic acid, and why is it important during pregnancy?

Infographic titled 'Why is folic acid important during pregnancy?'. Folic acid is a human-made form of folate, vitamin B9. We have to get it from our diet. It's converted into folate in the body. Folate is found naturally in a number of foods, particularly leafy vegetables, seeds, and nuts. It can also be added to some foods including flour, a process known as fortification. Low levels of folate have been linked to neural tube defects (NTDs). These happen when the neural tube, which forms the brain and spinal cord, doesn't develop or close properly, leading to conditions like spina bifida. Taking folic acid before and during early pregnancy reduces the risk of NTDs by about 70%. The mechanism by which folate reduces NTDs isn't known, but folate is important for building nucleic acids, the building blocks of DNA. Large quantities of nucleic acids are required by the developing neural tube for DNA replication, and folic acid deficiency may impact this.
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This week, the UK has confirmed it plans to fortify non-wholemeal flour with folic acid. It’s not the first country to do so: the United States has been fortifying flour with folic acid since 1998. Most countries in South America and a number in Asia also have mandatory fortification programs. This graphic looks at the reasons for fortification with folic acid – and making it also got me wondering why the practice isn’t more widespread in Europe.

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