March Of Dimes: Fortify Corn Masa Flour

Adding folic acid to corn masa flour could be a good way to help prevent brain and spine birth defects in the Hispanic community, the March of Dimes said this week.

Corn masa flour is commonly consumed in Latin American diets because it is used to make corn tortillas, empanadas and tamales. Fortifying it with folic acid could help to lower the rate of neural tube defects among Mexican Americans, says the health organization. However, FDA approval is needed first.

Cereal grains, like bread and pasta, are already fortified with the B vitamin since the FDA mandated it in 1998. Neural tube defects -- birth defects of the brain and spine -- have generally decreased in the United States since that time, by almost one-third, according to the March of Dimes editorial published in the American Journal of Public Health.

However, there are still 3,000 pregnancies a year in the United States that are affected by neural tube defects, with Hispanic women being the most affect; they are 20 percent more likely to have a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect than non-Hispanic white women, the editorial said.

"Fortification of cereal grains with folic acid in 1998 is a public health success story. Adding this B vitamin to corn masa flour will build on that initiative and begin to address the disparities in these birth defects," editorial author Dr. Alan R. Fleischman, M.D., medical director of the March of Dimes, said in a statement.

All women between ages 15 and 45 (childbearing age) are recommended to consume 0.4 mg (400 micrograms) of folic acid every day in order to avoid birth defects, spina bifida and anencephaly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fifty to 70 percent of birth defects are able to be prevented if the mother takes folic acid before and during pregnancy, the CDC says.