A study has found women are failing to take folic acid supplements before they start trying for a baby, which has renewed calls for folic acid to be added in everyday food
While most women remember to start taking a folic acid supplement when they’re pregnant, two thirds are not taking any while trying to conceive.
A study from Queen Mary University in London found that despite research showing the importance of folic acid for preventing defects of the brain, spine, or spinal cord and conditions such as spina bifida, the message to take folic acid while you’re trying for a baby is simply not getting through.
Two thirds of women are not taking a folic acid supplement while trying to conceive
Researchers discovered that just 31% of women took a folic acid supplement before they got pregnant, but this increased to 62% after finding out they’d conceived. However, for the full preventative benefits to be effective, the supplements need to be taken during the pre-conception period. The problem is often caused because not everyone who falls pregnant is actively trying to conceive, so don’t think to take a supplement beforehand.
Over 70 countries, including the US and Australia, enforce folic acid fortification to reduce the risk of women having a pregnancy affected by development problems such as spina bifida. It’s added to flour because it’s used widely in production of foods such as bread.
However the UK have not yet followed suit, despite recommendations from the Food Standards Agency. This is because critics have warned that supplementing food with folic acid could hide other health conditions, such as a deficiency of vitamin B12 in the elderly, which can lead to anaemia.
Folic acid fortification may reduce the risk of women having a pregnancy affected by spina bifida
‘The current UK policy of recommending women take folic acid supplements has failed,’ says Jonathan Bestwick, lead author and lecturer in medical statistics at Queen Mary University. ‘The government should introduce mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid without delay.’
This adds to the conception supplement debate with early research suggesting that taking supplements other than folic acid during pregnancy could be linked to miscarriage, adding folic acid to flour could remove any supposed risks with taking a supplement. What’s more, this move could also help men get their dosage of folic acid, which they also need when they start trying to conceive.
UK charity Shine, which provides support and information on spina bifida, is also campaigning for manufacturers to add folic acid to flour and the move is also supported by ex-Olympian Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, who is wheelchair bound as a result of her spina bifida.
The UK government is now considering fortifying flour with folic acid and health ministers hope to make a decision this year, so we’ll keep you updated.
Do you agree that flour should be fortified with folic acid to reduce the risk of spinal development problems? Let us know in the comment box below.