Folic acid enrichment has a positive effect on the offspring
In the past few months, studies have repeatedly been published that come to the conclusion that vitamin preparations do not have any health benefits. There is one important exception, however: folic acid is not only supposed to reduce the risk of heart disease or stroke, but, as American scientists have recently discovered, the risk of psychological illness in the offspring can be prevented if the mother eats cereal products fortified with folic acid during pregnancy.
The researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital recently published a study that found that cereal products fortified with folic acid had a positive impact on fetal brain development. Folic acid in flour is also said to reduce the risk of psychological disorders in young people. The study results were recently published in the specialist journal "JAMA Psychiatry".
Folic acid has a positive effect on brain development
In the observational study, the researchers were able to show that there are differences in brain development in adolescents who received folic acid as a fetus from the mother. The enrichment came from cereal-based foods that were mixed with folic acid. These enhancements were introduced in the United States in the 1990s to prevent the neural tube defect in infants.
Lower risk of serious mental illness
The research team's results suggest that exposure to folic acid may reduce the incidence of serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia in young adults. The study compared the brains of adolescents who were born shortly before and shortly after folic acid fortification was introduced. The researchers identified changes in brain development that have been linked to folic acid. These changes could in turn reduce the risk of mental symptoms.
Folic acid against autism and schizophrenia
"Serious mental illnesses such as autism and schizophrenia that affect children and young adults are devastating and chronic and currently have no known prevention or cure," said Joshua Roffman, the study's lead author, in a press release on the study results. It is currently believed that many mental illnesses begin in the womb. Therefore, it makes sense to concentrate efforts there.
A small percentage already means success
Roffman reports that it is a success if only a fraction of the mental disorders are prevented by the folic acid enrichment. This could mean that folic acid could be an easily available intervention during pregnancy to address these diseases.
About Folic Acid Enrichment in the United States
A regulation by the United States Food and Drug Administration stipulated that cereal products such as bread, flour, corn flour, rice and pasta had to be enriched with folic acid by January 1, 1998. The aim was to reduce the general risk of severe disabilities such as spina bifida. The measure resulted in a rapid doubling of folates in the blood of American women. A short time later there was a nationwide decrease in spina bifida cases.
Changes in the cerebral cortex
The brain images from the two groups of young people who were born before and after the full implementation of folic acid enrichment showed different patterns in the maturation of the cerebral cortex. The group that benefited from folic acid showed significantly thicker brain tissue and delayed thinning in regions associated with schizophrenia. According to the scientists, previous studies have linked early thinning to autism and symptoms of psychosis.
General statement too early
"Folic acid exposure cannot yet be directly linked to a reduced risk of schizophrenia, since the disease typically only appears in the early 20s," explains Roffman. The participants in the study are all under this age. Nevertheless, the results are very promising and indicate a risk reduction. "The oldest participants in the study are now approaching the age at greatest risk of multiple psychiatric disorders - including bipolar disorder and depression," said Roffman. Soon one could make more precise statements as to how strongly the prenatal exposure to folic acid affects the development of mental disorders.
Expert believes that global folate enrichment makes sense
Roffman, who is also a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, argues for global folate fortification: "While 81 countries are currently increasing their food supply with folic acid, more than half of the world's population remains without such exposure." The evidence That prenatal folic acid could be beneficial for brain health could also encourage other countries to implement folate enrichment, Roffman said. (vb)