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Folic acid fights dementia and premature births

The case for mandatory folic acid fortification continues to mount with two studies concluding the B-group vitamin can reduce the risk of dementia and premature births.

The research comes at a time when governments such as those in the UK and Australia are considering mandatory folic acid fortification in food items such as bread and flour. The US is one of only a handful of countries to mandate folic acid fortification. No European country has taken such an action.

The study on dementia was published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry and followed 518 South Korean seniors for two years. Those with low blood folate levels were three times more likely to develop dementia.

But Clive Ballard, director of research at the UK Alzheimer's Society, told the BBC: "The potential benefits in preventing or treating dementia can only be fully verified in a rigorous clinical trial, as overlap with other lifestyle factors and lifestyle changes in the very early stages of dementia can give misleading results."

The other study, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, found 63 per cent of pregnant women were less likely to develop pre-eclampsia if they took a multivitamin fortified with folic acid. "The findings of our study and others give hope of a new prevention strategy for pre-eclampsia, which needs further evaluation," wrote lead author Shi Wu Wen from the University of Ottawa. "Supplementation of large doses of folic acid in early gestation may work at both stages of pre-eclampsia development.?

Perhaps pre-empting widespread folic acid fortification, the UK Food Standards Agency has been urging major food companies such as Unilever to reduce folic acid levels in some of its products so that population segments don?t consume too much of the nutrient that is particularly abundant in cruciferous vegetables.

The FSA said folic acid levels should be reduced by 15 per cent in fortified breakfast cereals and fat spreads, and limited to set levels in supplements, or those who ate folic acid-fortified bread could be overdosing on it.

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