Folate – To Fortify or Not Fortify?
The Scottish Government are thinking about fortifying flour with folate because the population appear to be deficient.
Folate is important during pregnancy as it is vital for nerve cell formation and development. Studies have shown that a daily supplement of 400mcg of folate may prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida. It may also help prevent premature births. It must be taken at least 3 months before conception and I actually encourage clients to start thinking about this before 3 months, 9-12 months before conception is a good time to start preparing for a healthy pregnancy.
What about the rest of the population, what impact does folate deficiency have?
Folate is essential for the formation of red blood cells and the production of energy. It also is vital for healthy cell division and replication. It is involved in the metabolism of protein and may also be helpful for depression and anxiety.
Folate may be one of the most important nutrients in regulating homocysteine.
What is this and why is it important to be regulated?
It is an amino acid that is formed naturally in the body after the breakdown of another amino acid methionine. Studies found high levels of homocysteine have been connected with a high risk of developing heart disease and cognitive decline such as Alzheimer’s and may even be linked with osteoporsis. The body should convert homocysteine back into a non harmful substance but without the right nutrients this does not happen. B12 and B6 as well as folate are needed to keep homocysteine levels low.
Signs and Symptoms of Deficiency
A sore red tongue may be a sign of deficiency, as is anemia, apathy, fatigue, digestive problems, insomnia, memory problems and paranoia.
Folate deficiency may be caused by poor diet and a poor conumption of fruit and vegetables. Cooking vegetables can destroy folate, so lightly steaming vegetables and eating raw on occasion can help increase levels.
Asparagus, brown rice, chicken, dates, beef, green leafy vegetables, lentils, milk, mushrooms, organise, root vegetables, salmon and whole grains.
Fortifying – is it a good idea?
The reason the Scottish Government is considering fortification is because levels in foods like breakfast cereals has lowered over the years and they are concerned about an increase in neural birth defects.
Why are producers reducing the amounts? Could it be because there is a risk of consuming too much? People might be led to believe it’s a cost issue but it might be that too much folate could be putting people at risk of other diseases. Studies indicate an overconsumption of folic acid, leading to possible toxicity.
Some people genetically also do not have the ability to convert folic acid into at the active form once in the body, this means it is not broken down and a build up can happen leading to over-toxicity. Visit mthfr.net for more on this. Too much folate can be just as bad as too little.
Problems with too much folate?
Too much folic acid mask B12 deficiency – this may be a concern for the older population who may be at more risk of this. It can also mask anemia, this can lead to symptoms such as dementia and irreversible, severe damage to the nervous system.
There has been a small amount of evidence to suggest too much may be linked to increase in cancer tumours.
Natural formed folate through foods are metabolised differently in the body and do not have this effect. Natural food is also works synergistically with other vitamins and minerals.
What is the alternative?
The key here is to promote eating healthy foods that are naturally high in folate and optimising digestion, you are what you absorb. I know this is difficult for all aspects of society but starting with keeping the price of vegetables low and educating children and families on the effect food has on the body may all be positive steps forward to preventing disease. Supplementing with an active form of folate pre-conception may also prevent birth defects.
Improve diet first and in special circumstances such as pre-conception, pregnancy, heart disease risks and supporting brain function consider a supplement. The Government may be better to spend money on education and employing more nutritional therapists who can educate, motivate and encourage people to eat better.