, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 67-73
Date: 25 Jun 2010

Mandatory fortification of the food supply with cobalamin: an idea whose time has not yet come

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Abstract

The success of folic acid fortification has generated consideration of similar fortification with cobalamin for its own sake but more so to mitigate possible neurologic risks from increased folate intake by cobalamin-deficient persons. However, the folate model itself, the success of which was predicted by successful clinical trials and the known favorable facts of high folic acid bioavailability and the infrequency of folate malabsorption, may not apply to cobalamin fortification. Cobalamin bioavailability is more restricted than folic acid and is unfortunately poorest in persons deficient in cobalamin. Moreover, clinical trials to demonstrate actual health benefits of relevant oral doses have not yet been done in persons with mild subclinical deficiency, who are the only practical targets of cobalamin fortification because >94% of persons with clinically overt cobalamin deficiency have severe malabsorption and therefore cannot respond to normal fortification doses. However, it is only in the severely malabsorptive disorders, such as pernicious anemia, not subclinical deficiency, that neurologic deterioration following folic acid therapy has been described to date. It is still unknown whether mild deficiency states, which usually arise from normal absorption or only food-bound cobalamin malabsorption, have real health consequences or how often they progress to overt clinical cobalamin deficiency. Reports of cognitive or other risks in the common subclinical deficiency state, although worrisome, have been inconsistent. Moreover, their observational nature proved neither causative connections nor documented health benefits. Extensive work, especially randomized clinical trials, must be done before mandatory dietary intervention on a national scale can be justified.

Communicated by: Brian Fowler
Competing interest: None declared.
Presented at the 7th International Conference on Homocysteine Metabolism, Prague, 21–25 June 2009