Synthetic Folic Acid will be added to white bread... ...but why is no one talking about MTHFR?
With mainstream media featuring headlines about how synthetic Folic Acid is going to be added to white bread – you might want to know what this means for you, why has it come about and is Folic Acid fortification as great as it sounds?
So let’s start at the beginning.
Folic Acid is an essential vitamin for pregnant women. It is responsible for the production of red healthy blood cells, DNA, and the prevention of neural tube defects in babies, which is why it is recommended that women who are looking to conceive should take 400mcg of Folic Acid at least 3 months before getting pregnant.
The problem the UK government is facing, is that about 50% of all pregnancies in the UK are unplanned, which means that many mothers-to-be do not have enough folic acid in their system at the point of conception, resulting in approximately 200 neural tube defects in babies each year.
And so, the government is looking to reduce this number by at least 20% by fortifying white bread with Folic Acid.
This all sounds great – doesn’t it? Surely that’s what we want?
Well, we need to look a little bit closer.
You see 40-50% of the Northern European population have what is called the MTHFR gene mutation. Ever heard of it? I didn’t think so!
These gene mutations are passed on by our parents – so you can have none, 1 or 2 of these genes, and there are also two different types of MTHFR mutation variants – MTHFR C677T and A1298C.
With nearly half the population having some type of MTHFR variant, this calls into question Folic Acid fortification.
Let me tell you why.
Well, if you have an MTHFR variant, your body has a reduced ability to absorb folic acid, and this can lead to a build up of homocysteine (a type of amino acid usually linked to eating meat) – which is toxic to the body. This can result in allergies, nausea, headaches, burst blood vessels and pregnancy loss.
And this is exactly what happened to me.
I have 1 MTHFR gene mutation and 1 normal one. This means that I have a 40% decrease in the activity of my MTHFR enzyme, which slows down my homocysteine to methionine (an anti-oxidant) conversion process, leading to a build up of homocysteine in my blood.
You can have up to around a 70% decrease in your MTHFR enzyme activity depending on what type of variant you have and how many you have.
This decrease means I’m at risk of premature cardiovascular disease, blood clots and pregnancy loss.
The scary thing is that a lot people have the MTHFR gene mutation and they don’t even realise they have it.
What is even scarier is that, by fortifying foods with synthetic folic acid, nearly 50% of the population will be unable to process the synthetic folic acid in these products, leading to a build up of homocysteine in their bodies – and they have no choice in the matter.
So what’s the alternative?
Well, I believe there’s a few options.
There is no doubt that Folic Acid is a critical vitamin for pregnancy and for preventing neural tube defects in babies. We need it – 400mcg a day.
However, we need to be educating women on the essential nutritional benefits of folate (the natural, form of folic acid) and empowering them with this knowledge so that they can get more natural folate into their diets.
Shoving synthetic (chemically made) vitamins into white bread is not going to solve the problem. In fact, it’s rather patronising.
The National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) revealed that 75% of women between the ages of 16 and 49 years old in the UK have blood folate levels below the World Health Organisation cut off for preventing Neural Tube defects in babies.
We’re talking serious numbers here, with serious implications.
And so, this haphazard, slap dash approach feels like a plaster over a gaping wound and, if I’m being completely honest, it feels like yet another chapter in Caroline Criado-Perez’ book Invisible Women.
Another option, is education about whole food supplements. In October the UK’s first and only, organic Folic Acid launches – made entirely from organic whole food. This is revolutionary for the UK and for women.
Maybe this is the answer. Access to quality, organic, whole food supplements instead of cheap, chemical vitamins shoved into our foods. Maybe, yet again, the answer is access to education, access to information and access to quality healthcare.
Regardless of what you or I think – and regardless if we have MTHFR or not - this is happening, to our bread and to our bodies.
My parting advice - do your research. Eat folate rich foods and buy quality, organic, vitamins. And above all - avoid white bread at all costs.
We deserve more.