Folic acid has been proven to reduce the chances of neural tube defects (NTDs) in unborn babies, and now new research has found it could also reduce the most common types of cancers in children.
Research from Washington University and the University of Minnesota, published in the current issue of Paediatrics, looked at the rates of childhood cancer before and after to mandatory folic acid fortification.
“Our study is the largest to date to show that folic acid fortification may lower the incidence of certain types of childhood cancer in the United States,” Professor Kimberly Johnson, one of the researchers, said.
Since 1988 the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has required foods with folic acid to be fortified, and Australia implemented a similar initiative over a decade later, in 2009, when it became mandatory for Australian millers to add folic acid, which is a form of the B vitamin folate, to wheat flour for making bread.
Johnson said a concern many countries have in deciding whether or not to fortify foods to reduce neural tube defects in newborns is the possibility that fortification may cause other issues, including cancers or pre-cancerous lesions.
A spokesperson from Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), the body that regulates the mandatory fortification, told Food Magazine the initial opposition also came from within the industry.
“There was initial opposition from the flour milling industry as they believed it would add considerable costs to their operations for new facilities, and increased ongoing operating and verification costs,” she told said.
During the two-year consultation period, FSANZ comprehensively assessed the potential health benefits and risks from increasing intakes of folic acid across the population and based on all available scientific evidence, adding folic acid to wheat flour for making bread in Australia is safe for the whole population.
It says it is “continuing to monitor emerging scientific research on folic acid and public health and safety,” and that “no new evidence has emerged to change our original conclusion that mandatory fortification with folic acid is safe.”
The folic acid fortification has had a positive impact on the rates of NTD’s, including Spina Bifida, in both countries, but now the benefit is thought to extend even further.
Johnson, who authored the study with Dr Amy Linabery said their research showed a reduction in the rates of Wilms’ tumor, a type of kidney cancer, and primitive neuroectodermal tumors (PNET), a type of brain cancer, in children since the folic acid fortification.
Wilms’ tumor rates were increasing prior to the mandatory folic acid fortification, but trended downwards around the time of the introduction.
“PNET rates increased from 1986 to 1993 and decreased thereafter,” Johnson said.
“This change in the trend does not coincide exactly with folic acid fortification, but does coincide nicely with the 1992 recommendation for women of childbearing age to consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily.”
The study looked at data from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER) from the 1986 to 2008.
The SEER program has been collecting information on cancer rates throughout the US since the early 70’s.
Over 8,829 children, from birth to age four, who have been diagnosed with cancer, are included in the study.
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