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Folic acid harms embryonic development

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By David Liu, PHD

Monday Feb 18, 2013 (foodconsumer.org) -- We are told that massive yet indiscriminate folic acid fortification in wheat flour can help child-bearing women to reduce birth defects in their babies.   We also know that high intake of folic acid has been associated with high risk of cancer in women who are no longer expected to give birth.

Now a new study recently published in Birth Defects Research Part A: Clinical and Molecular Teratology suggests that moderately high intake of folic acid during pregnancy can damage embryos.  The study was conducted on mice, but the potential adverse effect of moderately high intake of folic acid on human embryos which has yet to be confirmed can't be ruled out. 

Rima Rozen from McGill University, Montreal Children's Hospital Research Institute in Montreal, Quebec, Canada and conducted this research and found excess folic acid intake, particularly during pregnancy caused embryonic loss or delay and or ventricular abnormality.  (the medical industry advocates supplementation of folic acid during pregnancy to prevent birth defects).

The researchers have early found that "a diet supplemented with 20-fold higher FA than the recommended intake for rodents had adverse effects on embryonic mouse development at embryonic days (E)10.5 and 14.5."

The current study was intended to examine how a diet supplemented with 10-fold higher folic acid than recommended to pregnant mice with or without a mild deficiency of methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR).

For the study, control mice were fed a diet supplemented with the recommended amount of folic acid, 2mg/kg diet for rodents) and study mice were fed a diet supplemented with a dose of folic acid that is 10-fold higher than recommended (20mg/kg diet).   At E14.5, mice were examined for embryonic growth to see if mice experienced embryonic loss or growth retardation and for hearts to see if they developed any defects.

The researchers found "Maternal FA (folic acid) supplementation was associated with embryonic loss, embryonic delays, a higher incidence of ventricular septal defects, and thinner left and right ventricular walls, compared to mothers fed control diet."

They concluded "Our work suggests that even moderately high levels of FA (folic acid) supplementation may adversely affect fetal mouse development. Additional studies are warranted to evaluate the impact of high folate intake in pregnant women."
Evidence has already suggested that folic acid supplements and fortification may increase risk of health problems such as cancer in the general population even though this vitamin may likely help prevent birth defects.

Although it is unknown right now whether folic acid fortification or supplementation is a good idea for the general population, it is known that eating folic acid rich foods (not fortified processed foods or fortified wheat flour) should be beneficial.   Folic acid deficiency can cause a range of health conditions.

Folic acid is found naturally high in foods including but not limited to lentils, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, spinach, black beans, navy beans, kidney beans, collard greens, turnip greens, Lima beans, asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, papaya, green peas, leeks, Brussels sprouts, bell peppers, celery, sea vegetables, strawberries, green beans, summer squash, cabbage, and tomatoes.

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