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NAMA Announces the Latest Medical Miracle for Preventing Birth Defects

January 8, 2002

Public Service Announcement

WASHINGTON, D.C. – January 8, 2002 – The North American Millers' Association (NAMA) issued a public service announcement about the benefits of bread and pasta for women of childbearing age. Since January 1998, all enriched flour, pasta, cornmeal and other cereal grain products in the United States have been fortified with folic acid to help reduce the incidence of neural tube defects (NTDs) in infants. These foods were chosen for fortification with folic acid because they are staple products for most of the U.S. population, and because they have a long history of being successful vehicles for improving nutrition to reduce the risk of nutrient deficiency diseases. The U.S. has seen a 19 percent drop in the number of children born with certain spinal and brain defects since the U.S. began requiring that folic acid be added to flour and other grains. An additional 800 healthy children are born in the U.S. every year.

Folic acid is in many healthful foods. A bowl fortified breakfast cereal, enriched pasta or bread, a bowl of lentil soup, a large spinach salad, or a tall glass of orange juice will put a woman well on her way to the recommended daily allowance of 0.4 mg. The tricky part is that NTDs occur in an embryo before a woman may realize she's pregnant. Since more than half of pregnancies are unplanned, FDA has taken steps to fortify food so that all women of childbearing age get a daily dose of folic acid. Without it, most women 19 to 50 get only 0.2 mg of folic acid each day, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates.

On December 3 a study was released by the Journal of Nutrition that shows the benefits of fortifying grain products with folic acid are even greater than expected. Researchers at Tufts University investigated the effects of folic acid fortification in adults. Their results show that the introduction of folic acid in common foods significantly improved folate levels by more than expected in most middle aged and elderly Americans, regardless of whether they took additional vitamin supplements or not.

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