P3 Study welcomes flour fortification with folate

September 20, 2021

The UK government has today (20th September 2021) announced that flour in the UK is to be fortified with folic acid, a move welcomed by the P3 Study team. This will help to prevent neural tube defects such as:

  • Spina bifida – where the membranes around the spine do not close properly, which can problems with walking or controlling the bladder and bowels
  • Anencephaly – where the majority of the brain never develops.

Every day in the UK, an average of two women terminate a pregnancy because of a neural tube defect, while every week two women give birth to a baby affected by one. There are around 1000 pregnancies that are affected by neural tube defects each year in the UK. You can find out more about neural tube defects on the NHS website and at SHINE

Evidence shows that taking folic acid before and during pregnancy significantly reduces the risk of these foetal abnormalities. Therefore, women in the UK who are considering becoming pregnant are advised to take a daily folic acid supplement of 400 micrograms. However, many women do not do so, particularly younger and ethnic minority women and women that have unplanned pregnancies. Approximately half of all pregnancies in the UK are unplanned, therefore many women are missing out on these nutrients early in their pregnancy.

Britain is believed to have the highest rate of neural tube defects in Europe. Over 80 countries worldwide already fortify flour; when fortification first began in Canada, neural tube defects halved without any evidence of harm to the general population. It is thought that adding folic acid to flour could prevent up to 200 birth defects in the UK a year.

This decision follows a public consultation in 2019 and is the result of the government’s independent advisory body – the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition – saying that is is satisfied that concerns that fortification may lead to harms are not supported by the evidence.

Despite the recommendation, it is still important that women thinking about becoming pregnant start taking a daily folic acid supplement of 400 micrograms. Women with some medical conditions may need to take a higher dose; if you have any concerns seek advice from your general practitioner.