The adding of folic acid to bread may be unnecessary and could expose people to potential risks, according to a study just published in the BMC Public Health journal.

The findings of a study in Dublin suggested that mandatory fortification may actually do more harm than good, possibly putting people at a higher risk of accelerating the growth of certain cancers.

Following a public consultation in 2006, the Food Safety Authority in Ireland (FSAI) had recommended mandatory fortification. “However, due to safety considerations this decision is now on hold,” read the report on the background to the study.

It was advised that existing levels of unmetabolised folic acid and their anticipated increase after fortification needed to be investigated due to the potential to “mask pernicious anaemia and possibly accelerate the growth of existing cancers”.

A study was carried out to examine the levels of circulatory unmetabolised folic acid in Irish adults (both fasted and un-fasted) and new-born infants (fasted).

Up to now health organisations have recommended that pregnant women take supplements for the development of a healthy foetus and to prevent spina bifida.

However, while the study showed the levels of circulatory unmetabolised folic acid reported in the subjects were low, “it is persistently present in women immediately after caesarean section, who were fasting, indicating that there would be a constant/habitual exposure of existing tumours to folic acid, with the potential for accelerated growth. Mandatory fortification might exacerbate this”.