Folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, is unable to be stored in the human body for long periods of time as it is water soluble. This means that to maintain the required level of the vitamin in your body, it is necessary to take a supplement.
Pregnant ladies or those planning to become pregnant should take a supplement as it is almost impossible for them to get enough folic acid from their normal diet. It has been recommended that women who are trying to conceive take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. This dosage should be continued for at least the first 12 weeks of the pregnancy as this is the time when the baby’s spine is in the process of developing. It is safe for pregnant women to continue taking the supplement after the first 12 weeks.
The UK Department of Health is currently considering making the addition of folic acid to bread compulsory. This is due to the importance of the development of a healthy foetus. Folic acid reduces the risk of neural tube defects in babies by around 60%. At present the UK suffers with the highest neural tube defects level in Europe. It is estimated that 700 out of 900 pregnancies are affected annually.
There are those who are in favor of adding folic acid to bread and those who are not. Those in favour are concerned about the high risk of malformation of the spinal cord in the nervous system of a foetus. Those who are opposed to the addition of folic acid to foodstuffs are concerned about the increasing cancer risk. Although the Institute of Food Research stipulates that there have been no reported incidences of negative effects, there are concerns linked to the safety of taking folic acid for a prolonged period.
The areas of concern, based on evidence from Canada and the US, are that increased amounts of the vitamin could lead to negative immune system changes.
The Health Department has stated that it will reach their final decision based on data from recent surveys.
Image credit: Stacy Spensley