They found a 77 per cent reduction in low serum folate levels after analysing more than 20,000 blood samples collected from a varied group of hospital patients between April 2007 and April 2010. The 77 per cent drop occurred between April 2009 and April 2010.
They said this drop included women of childbearing age which was one of the key population sub-groups targeted by the programme due to folic acid’s ability to reduce neural tube defects in newborns.
The findings were welcomed by Australian Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing, Catherine King.
“Since September 2009, Australian millers have added folic acid (a form of the B vitamin folate) to wheat flour for making bread,” King said.
“I congratulate industry for the work they’ve done in implementing this important initiative which aimed to reduce the number of neural tube defects (severe birth defects such as spina bifida) in the Australian population by increasing folic acid intakes in women who may become pregnant.”
She added: “The decision to introduce mandatory fortification was taken after a comprehensive, rigorous safety assessment by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).
“FSANZ is continuing to monitor emerging scientific research on folic acid and public health and safety.”
The researchers found the prevalence of low serum levels dropped from 9.3% per cent to 2.1% (the 77 per cent drop) and that in females of childbearing age there was a 31 per cent increase in mean serum folate level and 22 per cent in red blood cell folate level.
“To our knowledge, this study provides the first clear evidence that the prevalence of folate deficiency in Australia has significantly decreased since the implementation of mandatory fortification,” the authors wrote.
They added: “There is ongoing controversy regarding possible harmful effects of folic acid intake from fortified products, driven by conflicting reports regarding whether risk of cancer, heart disease and masking of vitamin B12 deficiency increase after folic acid supplementation.”
“It is reassuring that the mean rise in RBC folate levels shown in the large group of patients we studied was only 22% and the prevalence of RBC folate levels over 2000 nmol/L only increased from 6.9% to 7.9%. These relatively minor overall increases in blood folate levels have led to an impressive reduction in the prevalence of folate deficiency in this Australian population.”
Medical Journal of Australia
2011; 194 (2): 65-67
‘The impact of mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid on the blood folate levels of an Australian population’
Authors:Ross D Brown, Mark R Langshaw, Elaine J Uhr, John N Gibson and Douglas E Joshua