Should Foods be Fortified With Folate?

The idea of fortifying foods with folate is nothing new, but the idea of making it mandatory for some companies has triggered some debate. So here is a brief post about the pros and...
cereals-fortified

The idea of fortifying foods with folate is nothing new, but the idea of making it mandatory for some companies has triggered some debate. So here is a brief post about the pros and cons of fortification of folate, and what it might mean for you.

 

Foods Which May Be Fortified

The foods which will be fortified will be ‘every-day’ foods. The generally means that the flour which makes our bread will be fortified, and the cereals we eat will be fortified. Currently in the UK fortification of these foods is recommended and not mandatory.

 

The Reason For Fortification

The primary reason for fortifying with folate is to avoid a birth defect called spina bifida in new born babies. Spina bifida  is caused by a deficiency of folate in the mothers diet during the foetus development. There is increased emphasis for this as more and more women are having unplanned pregnancies, and so may not make the correct dietary changes soon enough.

 

The Reason Against Fortification

Giving people less control over what is in their food is always a concern. Having common foods fortified with folate may lead to people having much more folate in the diet than they need which can have negative health effects. Folate overdose can mask vitamin B12 deficiency and cause nerve damage

Another concern, is that in the USA, when foods were widely fortified with folate the incidence of cancer rose. This was initially thought that high levels of folate in the diet caused cancer, but this is not the case as I will explain.

 

Folate and cancer risk

Folate (or folic acid) is essential for cell replication, or more specifically, DNA replication. Without folate in the diet, cells cannot replicate.

Cancer cells replicate at an uncontrollable rate, and so consume large amounts of folate. However, is not an issue with healthy individuals, and is only a problem with people who have developed cancer.
The raise in cancer cases in the USA was because people who had undiagnosed cancer rapidly developed their cancer, resulting in a raise in cancer cases. However, after the initial fortification of folate in foods, cancer prevalence returned to the original levels. This shows that folate does not cause cancer, but does increase its rate of development in individuals who have developed it.
Image courtesy of Cereal Dispenser.

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