Sunday, July 19, 2009

Folic Acid

It was with some relief that I heard on the news tonight that Prime Minister John Key has decided against the inclusion of folic acid in all our bread. Apparently we were supposed to follow Australia - if this is an example of being more closely-allied to our neighbours, then perhaps we should rethink our connections.

Folic acid, sometimes called folate, is a B vitamin (B9) found mostly in leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach, orange juice, and enriched grains. Surely that's what we should be encouraging young mothers to eat, rather than taking yet another chemicalized version of real food.

Well, Mr Key said No, and good on him. Folic acid is widely regarded as being of benefit to babies in the womb, which is why pregnant mothers are encouraged to take it in doses. It has some preventive aspect in regard to serious neural tube defects (such as the incomplete development of the brain and spinal cord).

But there are three things that puzzle me: if it's so effective, how come billions of babies have survived without additional doses of it for millennia? And if it's geared towards babies via their mothers, why on earth do the rest of us, particularly males, need to have it in our bread? And if pregnant mothers were going to eat it via bread, how much extra bread would they need to consume in order to get the 'large' doses required?

TV One (I think that was what we were watching) claimed the medical and scientific community was up in arms against Mr Key's change of mind. Or his determination of mind, rather. Well, the scientific and medical community was represented by a single geneticist, who seemed to have a bee in her bonnet about the whole thing. She didn't answer any of the questions I've raised above.

The use of folic acid in this way was perhaps considered as a kind of cheap insurance for the wellbeing of feotuses. But in fact it was an extremely expensive kind of measure - and once again, Joe Public and his wife would have wound up paying for it every time they purchased bread, which is already expensive enough.

The geneticist, by the way, recommended buying bread from Australia in order to get the folic acid. Dear me.

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