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Study Suggests Folic Acid, Breast Cancer Link

But Folic Acid Has Huge Health Benefits, Experts Say

The Fortification Debate

The "decision making" Hall is referring to is the debate in the U.K. over whether to add folic acid to the food supply, as has been done in the U.S. and many other industrialized countries.

Folic acid was added to breads, cereals, flours, and other grain products in the U.S. in 1986. Since that time, neural tube-related birth defects, such as spina bifida, have declined by 26%, according to the CDC.

Government research also suggests that fortification is responsible for preventing as many as 31,000 deaths from stroke each year. High levels of a substance called homocysteine in the blood increase the risk of stroke, and folic acid helps bring that level down.

"It is a real tragedy -- a huge public policy failure -- that fortification has not happened in [the U.K.], and the danger is that this study will influence that debate," Oakley says.

In an editorial accompanying the study, Oakley wrote that mandatory fortification "should be immediately implemented for the known benefits of preventing birth defects and anemia."

Though she acknowledges that fortification may benefit the public as a whole, Hall says the unanswered questions about the potential long-term risks of folic acid supplementation need to be explored.

"I think policy should be made on the basis of all the information that is available, and that would include this study," she says.

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