Folic acid, or folate, is one of 12 B vitamins and is especially important to women who are pregnant or attempting to become pregnant. It has been shown that adequate folate ingestion during the preconception period helps protect against several congenital malformations such as neural tube defects. Neural tube defects are severe abnormalities of the central nervous system that develops in the first few weeks of embryo development and can result in malformations of the spine, skull, and brain.
The most common neural tube defects are spina bifida and anencephaly. Because of this risk to the health of the embryo, pregnant women especially need proper amounts of folic acid and as a result it has been proposed that folic acid should be added to bread and other flour products to avoid this problem. However there are problems that could arise from this measure and it would not solve all of the current problems.
First, even if the folic acid was added to items like bread, women, even a young woman, would not be able to receive an adequate amount of it through a typical diet. The amount of folic acid women would receive would vary greatly depending on the type of diet they maintained. This method would not be a reliable way to solve the problem of pregnant women not receiving adequate amounts of it early in the pregnancy.
Also, by adding extra things to food, it can have adverse effects on the elderly. The addition of folic acid to everyday foods could be dangerous to the elderly community because they generally take supplements that add 400 micrograms (μg) to their daily folic acid intake. Adding folic acid to their daily food would increase this amount to more dangerous levels causing them to have higher levels of unmetabolized folic acid which can accelerate the growth of preneoplastic lesions.
And finally, tablets that add folic acid to the diet of pregnant women are readily available. The levels of folic acid in these tablets are only suitable for pregnant women and guarantee they receive the proper amount when used.