Pervasive vitamin fortification could alter genes
Helen Pearson
Too much folic acid risks future health of population.

Folic acid is added to flour by law in some countries.

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The widespread practice of fortifying food with folic acid could be slowly changing the genetic make-up of the population - and perhaps creating future generations more vulnerable to fatal diseases.

That's the provocative idea being proposed by researcher Mark Lucock of the University of Newcastle in Ourimbah, Australia, and Zoe Yates of the University of Leeds, UK, in Nature Reviews Genetics1.

Folic acid is a type of B vitamin that is vital for many metabolic processes, and it is added by law to flour and grain products in some countries, including the United States. This ensures that pregnant women, who are often unaware of their pregnancy early on, eat enough folic acid to reduce the risk of their babies developing defects in the brain and spine.

Lucock and Yates propose that folic-acid fortification, which bumps up the entire population's intake of the nutrient, could slowly and inadvertently change the genetic make-up of the population and potentially make us unhealthier as a whole. Lucock says this idea has not been widely discussed by scientists before.

Gene variant