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In 1998, folic acid fortification in enriched grain products was mandated to decrease neural tube defects in infants, yielding successful results. Recently, international researchers proposed that adding folic acid to salt could also prevent birth defects.

WHO recommends women to take folic during pregnancy

Folate is essential for a healthy pregnancy. The World Health Organization advises women to take a daily supplement with 400 micrograms of folic acid when trying to conceive and during the first trimester.

Folic acid and folate, often used interchangeably, differ in their forms. Whereas folic acid is synthetic, folate occurs naturally in food, such as dark leafy greens and beef liver. Folic acid is common in supplements and has been proven effective in preventing neural tube defects.

While around 65 countries have implemented mandatory fortification of staple foods with folic acid, there are more than 100 countries facing challenges such as limited capacity or political will to do so.

The study involving 83 non-pregnant women aged 18-45 from four villages in southern India explored the effectiveness of folic acid-fortified salt in preventing neural tube defects, which are prevalent in India. Conducted over four months in 2022, the research found that fortifying salt with folic acid could significantly increase serum folate levels, potentially preventing conditions like spina bifida and anencephaly. This suggests that fortifying salt with folic acid could be a practical solution to address neural tube defects in regions with high prevalence.

Salt fortification can help avert still births

According to the study, globally, approximately 260,000 births (about 20 per 10,000) suffer from spina bifida and anencephaly, leading to numerous stillbirths, terminations, and early childhood deaths.

The study led by Jogi Pattisapu, MD from UCF’s College of Medicine, demonstrates that folic acid absorption through salt is feasible. This finding suggests that countries without fortification programs could consider implementing salt fortification, which is cost-effective and straightforward. Pattisapu emphasizes the potential to save lives by adding the necessary amount of folic acid to salt. He notes that despite potentially discoloring salt, participants did not object to it. The crucial next step is to take action based on this evidence.