I was interested to read details of research in The Lancet showing the benefits of folic acid, not least because of the consultation we’re currently running, which includes an option to introduce mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid.
The study concludes that folic acid benefits the cognitive health of older adults. The participants were randomly chosen either to receive folic acid supplements (800 micrograms a day), or a placebo, for three years. Memory and the ability to process information – which, as we know, usually deteriorate as we get older – were significantly better in the group that received folic acid, compared with the group that received the placebo.
At the end of last year, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) concluded that, overall, the evidence for either beneficial or harmful effects of folic acid on cognitive function in older people is inconclusive at the moment. Although The Lancet study adds to the evidence, by itself it isn’t enough to change SACN’s overall conclusion. We need to see if results from further trials confirm these findings.
The FSA already advises women who are pregnant, or trying to conceive, to take folic acid, to reduce the risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect such as spina bifida.
The FSA’s consultation focuses on increasing the folic acid intakes of young women but, of course, if mandatory fortification of flour were introduced in the UK – as it has been in a number of other countries – it wouldn’t only be young women who would be consuming the added folic acid. So it’s important to weigh up the interests of different population groups. If you would like to find out more and have your say on the different options, take a look at the consultation and read my earlier blog posting on this topic.