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Study Of Birth Defects, Folic Acid In Foods Finds More Questions Than Answers
Kaiser Health News

Adding folic acid to foods like cereal and bread — long considered one of the most successful public health interventions to prevent birth defects — may be a less effective strategy than once thought, according to a provocative new study from Stanford University.

In 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required folic acid, a B-vitamin, to be added to cereal grain products to prevent neural tube defects, which can cause spina bifida, anencephaly, cleft palate and other devastating congenital abnormalities. Major food manufacturers were already adding the vitamin supplement to foods voluntarily two years earlier.

The Stanford researchers examined 1.3 million births and pregnancies over two decades in eight central California counties, and they were surprised by what they found. They knew that neural tube defects had been declining in California even before folic acid fortification of food became widespread, though the reasons are unclear.