FDA Approves Enrichment of Corn Masa Flour with Folic Acid

At the urging of groups like the March of Dimes, who seek to reduce the incidence of birth defects in the United States, the FDA last month issued approval for manufacturers to enrich corn masa flour with folic acid. (After much discussion and contention, the FDA mandated in the 1990’s that wheat flour be enriched with folic acid.[i])

The specific goal of those advocating folic acid enrichment is to reduce a specific class of birth defects known as “neural tube birth defects,” those defects arising from malformation of the brain, spine, or spinal cord. Neural tube birth defects include spina bifida, anencephaly, and cleft palates, and are a class of birth defects that are most strongly linked to a deficiency in dietary folate (not folic acid; I’ll explain that in a moment).

The logic here is that corn mesa flour is an increasingly prevalent staple of the American diet and enriching it will further reduce birth defects, especially among the Hispanic population.

There are times when public medical policy is based upon what is expedient, not what is ideal. I think this is one such example and I’m troubled and conflicted by it.

On one hand, who doesn’t want to reduce birth defects? Birth defects, especially neural tube defects are heartbreaking, crippling, and even fatal. Only a heartless ogre would say, “Nah, I’m not interested in reducing birth defects!”

What troubles me is not the goal, it’s the use of folic acid to get there. Folic acid, you see, is a synthetic folate that is unusable by the human body. Folic acid must be converted by the body into folate before it is biologically useable.

Folic acid that is not converted is unusable and, research is showing, is harmful:

One animal study showed that rats given excess folic acid during pregnancy gave birth to offspring that exhibited metabolic dysfunctions, including insulin resistance and obesity.[ii] Additionally, human studies show that excess folic acid increases the incidence of asthma in offspring.[iii] Other studies show that folic acid taken at just two times the recommended amount during pregnancy promotes the growth of existing pre-cancerous or cancerous cells in the mammary glands of rats. Clearly, animal and human studies are giving reason to believe that synthetic folic acid can be harmful if taken even to slight excess during pregnancy.

In the words of one of the folic acid researchers, Professor Elisa Keating, “our study shows that it is possible to have too much of a good thing…the search for a safe upper dose of folic acid is urgently needed.”

Note that the researchers are talking about folic acid, not about folates. It’s impossible to “overdose” on green vegetables and ingest too much folate. Folates are naturally occurring, easily metabolized, and safe at any realistically possible intake. Folic acid, on the other hand, is artificial, must be converted in the body, and is not safe when taken to excess.

Complicating the discussion of safe folic acid intake is the genetic variability between individuals when metabolizing folic acid into folate. This conversion is dependent upon an enzyme that our body produces and, depending upon one’s genetic variability, one can convert folic acid to folates rather easily or rather poorly.[iv] As many as 50% of people in the world today have a variation that makes folic acid conversion less efficient, making harmful buildup of folic acid more likely. Those most likely to have the variation that most impedes folic acid conversion are those of Italian and of Hispanic descent.

As I’ve advocated many times before, from inflammatory response to blood glucose elevation to the presence of agents like glyphosate, there are plenty of reasons to avoid grains altogether, especially wheat and corn. With the enrichment of corn masa flour with folic acid, however, there’s now one more reason to avoid corn. The better way to get one’s folates is to avoid folic acid altogether and eat naturally occurring, green leafy vegetables that contain natural folates.

Therein lies the expediency of the folic acid enrichment policy. Is it reasonable to say to the public, “Just get all your folates from green vegetables? Don’t eat corn or wheat at all.” How many will follow such advice? I can promise you that very few will. Our nation’s rates of obesity, inflammatory disease, heart disease, and diabetes are a testament to that. And without the dietary enrichment of folic acid, the birth defect penalty will be exacted upon those without a voice in the matter: the child in the womb.

So, I guess my opinion boils down to this: if you’re pregnant and insist upon eating grains, it’s probably better that your grains have some folic acid in them than not. Do not, however, tell yourself that you’re doing anything optimal. You’re just doing something marginally less harmful. Much the same as if you tried to convince yourself that smoking filtered cigarettes is good for your baby because it’s much better than smoking unfiltered ones.


[i] http://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/WhatWeDo/History/ProductRegulation/SelectionsFromFDLIUpdateSeriesonFDAHistory/ucm091883.htm

[ii] http://joe.endocrinology-journals.org/content/224/3/245

[iii] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24930442

[iv] The variability in folic acid metabolism is centered on the MTHFR gene. Those with the most serious conversion impairment are advised to avoid folic acid altogether. The MTHFR variability, or mutation as some call it, is a topic worthy of a much larger discussion. If you’re interested in learning more, I suggest you start at mthfr.net.

Another Strike Against Monsanto’s Roundup

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’re undoubtedly aware of the controversy surrounding Monsanto’s Roundup (glyphosate) weed killer. Roundup is a principal component of Monsanto’s GMO (genetically modified organisms) policy in which crops (primarily corn and soy) are genetically engineered to be resistant to glyphosate toxicity, which is lethal to virtually every weed known. By planting glyphosate-resistant crops and then spraying liberal amounts of glyphosate, growers can (allegedly) grow crops more economically, burdened far less by weed growth. In addition to using glyphosate on GMO crops, some of these farmers are also using it as a “burndown” herbicide to eliminate weeds prior to planting. The use of glyphosate as a burndown agent is apparently quite prevalent when growing wheat.

Setting aside the emerging issues of glyphosate-resistant super weeds that are now appearing and doubling every two years, there has been much controversy in recent years over the toxicity of glyphosate in humans.

One glyphosate study, performed by Dr. Andreas Carrasco and a team of researchers in Argentina, analyzed birth defects in frogs and chickens exposed to glyphosate. His study revealed the same skeletal deformities in these animals as was witnessed in the children that were born to the mothers who lived in agricultural communities where large amounts of glyphosate were being aerially applied to glyphosate-resistant GMO soybeans.[1]

A team led by Dr. Gilles Eric Seralini documented severe damage from glyphosate to umbilical cord cells from human infants. Glyphosate residue kills both the sperm and the egg at a half part per million and causes endocrine disruption to the cells at 0.2 of a part per million.[2]

Monsanto has steadfastly held that glyphosate is harmless, even falsely claiming that glyphosate doesn’t cross the placental barrier to reach the fetus, a claim readily disproved by the journal Clinical Research in Toxicology.

Adding to the mounting pile of evidence that Monsanto’s glyphosate is harmful is MIT researcher Stephanie Seneff, who focuses primarily on the relation between nutrition and health.

In a June, 2014 slide show that is quickly becoming famous, Dr. Seneff shows disturbing correlations between the increasing use of glyphosate and a number of maladies, including autism, dementia, celiac disease, non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and intestinal infection. More than just showing correlation, Dr. Seneff offers some possible mechanisms of action that explain glyphosate’s role in promoting these increasingly common diseases. For example, Monsanto argues that a principal mechanism of glyphosate’s action, the disruption of the Shikimate pathway (a biochemical process used by plants and bacteria to generate the amino acids: phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan), is harmless to humans because humans do not utilize the Shikimate pathway. What Monsanto is conveniently overlooking, however, is that human gut bacteria does use this biochemical process to produce amino acids, and other biochemical goodies, that are vital to human health, which produces a shortage of neurotransmitters and folate.

Dr. Seneff’s also points out that because glyphosate’s damaging effects increase over time, most studies are too short to show damage. (If you’ve read “The Truth About Drug Companies” by former New England Journal of Medicine editor-in-chief Dr. Marcia Angel, you’re quite familiar with the ways that drug safety trials are often carefully trimmed to avoid showing harm. If, for example, a medication being studied begins to show harm after 24 weeks of use, the drug company can publish the results of the trial, shortened to 22 weeks long, showing that the medication produced no ill effects. It’s not hard to imagine a pesticide or herbicide safety studies being manipulated in the same way.)

Perhaps most alarming is that glyphosate long-term safety studies do not include the additives (also known as adjuvants) that are mixed with commercially applied glyphosate. Why is this alarming? Because according to the journal BioMed Research International, in 100% of the cases where adjuvants are used in pesticides, they increase the toxicity of the principal ingredient, making the principal ingredient as much as 1,000 times more toxic.

To drive the point that there’s a correlation between glyphosate use and autism, Dr. Seneff shows this rather alarming graph:

Glyphsate and Autism

While any reputable researcher will tell you that correlation is not causation (a chant that’s becoming all to familiar in the blogosphere), correlation does accomplish one thing: it points to investigative avenues that are potentially worth exploring. Dr. Seneff points out that even a casual exploration reveals that the following biomarkers for autism can all be explained as proven effects of glyphosate on biological systems:

  • Disrupted gut bacteria; inflammatory bowel
  • Low serum sulfate
  • Methionine deficiency
  • Serotonin and melatonin deficiency
  • Defective aromatase
  • Zinc and iron deficiency
  • Urinary p-cresol
  • Mitochondrial disorder
  • Seizures; glutamate toxicity in the brain

Take a look at Dr. Seneff’s slide show and see if you agree that it’s time we spend some real, unbiased time looking at the effects of glyphsate on all of us and stop believing Monsanto’s propaganda.

And while you’re at it, consider making a donation to Food Democracy Now to aid in their fight for GMO labeling so that no matter your position on GMOs and glyphosate safety, you can make an informed purchasing decision when deciding what to feed yourself and your family.



[1] Paganeli, A, et al., Glyphosate-based herbicides produce teratogenic effects on vertebrates by impairing retinoic acid signaling. Chemical Research in Toxicology 2010;23:1586–1595.

[2] Benachour, N, et al., Time- and dose-dependent effects of Roundup on human embryonic and placental cells. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology Journal. 2007;53:126–133.

Grain Brain: Another Nail in Grain’s Coffin

Neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter deals another blow to the "grains are good" lie

Neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter deals another blow to the “grains are good” lie.

First there was Wheat Belly, a scathing indictment by cardiologist Dr. William Davis on the harm caused by today’s modern wheat, even exulted whole grains. In Wheat Belly, Dr. Davis warned of us heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and neurological problems, all caused by wheat. Dr. Davis cites NIH studies showing wheat proteins binding to the brain’s opioid receptors, altering behavior and increasing appetite.

Now, acclaimed neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter continues the highly justified grain bashing with Grain Brain, a book that promises to reveal the truth about “wheat, carbs, and sugar—your brain’s silent killers.”

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Promoting Alzheimer’s Awareness by Promoting Alzhemer’s

I recently noticed a flyer posted at a local restaurant:

“Pancake Breakfast to Aid Alzheimer’s Association”

A quick search online reveals that this is not an isolated event.

Carpentersville Local Firefighters Local 4790 “Eat for Alzheimer’s Pancake Breakfast”

Raleigh County Commission on Aging “Pancake Breakfast to Aid Alzheimer’s”

Pancake breakfasts, it seems, have become de rigueur for benefitting Alzheimer’s. Whether to increase awareness or to fund research, pancake breakfasts are suddenly being promoted by a slew of well-meaning people, from local firefighters to community organizations to Alzheimer’s associations.

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Promoting Honesty Through Subterfuge

If the dairy industry has its way, we’re about to see even more options for feeding our children ultra-sweet tasting, low-fat dairy products, under the guise of providing “more healthful eating practices” so we can “reduce childhood obesity by providing for lower-calorie flavored milk products.”

According to an announcement in the Federal Register, the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) have filed a petition requesting that the FDA amend the standard of identity for milk (and 17 other dairy products) to provide for the “use of any safe and suitable sweetener as an optional ingredient.”

“Safe and suitable” according to the petition, includes “non-nutritive sweeteners such as aspartame.”

Aspartame? Ick.

And the best part is, this petition would allow the dairy industry to add such non-nutritive sweeteners to milk without indicating this in any way on the label, arguing that “…the proposed amendments to the milk standard of identity would promote honesty and fair dealing in the marketplace…”

Only in today’s insane world of food politics does hiding food ingredients promote honesty.

If you’re confused about how secretly adding artificial sweeteners to our milk could possibly promote “honesty and fair dealing,” the petitioners kindly explain:

“…IDFA and NMPF argue that nutrient content claims such as “reduced calorie” are not attractive to children, and maintain that consumers can more easily identify the overall nutritional value of milk products that are flavored with non-nutritive sweeteners if the labels do not include such claims.”

 Currently, you see, non-nutritive sweeteners may only be included in an unlabeled product if a the product packaging bears a nutrient content claim (e.g., “low-calorie). So, by removing the “low-calorie” label that drive the kids away, we can ensure that they drink more aspartame-enriched, low-fat milk.

And remember, it’s all about the consumer.

As the dairy industry states:

“Accordingly, the petitioners state that milk flavored with non-nutritive sweeteners should be labeled as milk without further claims so that consumers can more easily identify its overall nutritional value.”

 I don’t know about you, but I can more easily identify a food’s nutritional value when the &*#$@*! label reveals everything that’s in the product!

Thanks to the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), and the FDA (who will undoubtedly bend over for the milk industry), our kids will suffer even further damage from a lack of healthy fat and will be further bombarded with aspartame (a substance the neurologist Russel Blaylock refers to as an “excitotoxin”), all while cultivating a further desire for heavily sweetened foods.


No Longer a Wheat-Free Household

In a move that will certainly please most nutritional experts and USDA policy makers, we have decided that we will no longer be a wheat-free household.

Yes, despite all of my rhetoric about wheat’s role in promoting atherosclerotic lipid particles, causing acid reflux, and causing celiac and non-celiac disease states, I’ve decided that the experts are right and there is a role for wheat in my home.

No, this isn’t a joke.

You see, our latest purchase in the never ending search for a cat litter that doesn’t suck is wheat.

I’ll be happy if the claims about less dust and firm clumping are true, just as long as the cats don’t accidentally eat any of it.

This Is Not Paleo

As careful as we are with our diets here in the Don’t Die Early household, there are still times when ya gotta say, WTF (or WTH for the g-rated among you).

Halloween is obviously one of those days:

Fortunately, our daughter will only eat a few pieces a day of this Halloween bounty and then lose interest in less than a week, at which time we’ll give the remainder away to the farmers who are feeding stale candy to their cattle.

Genetic Roulette Documentary

Two days after I posted a link on the variability of cause and effect, I learned of this documentary on genetically modified foods and their possible effects on our health (thank you Tom Naughton for posting a link to this documentary).

This documentary is viewable free for one week from the date of this posting, so enjoy it free while you can.

Whether or not this documentary convinces you that GMOs are harmful to humans, my question from an earlier post remains:

Do you want to be part of the experiment or do you want to be in the control group?


Canaries Among Us

Recently, a friend and I were talking about Dr. Terry Wahls and her amazing recovery from crippling MS after changing from the Standard American Diet of grains, sugars, and vegetable oils to one consisting of nutrient-rich, grain-free, natural foods. I observed to my friend that the Standard American Diet is harming us all and we would all do well to follow Dr. Wahl’s advice. My friend, who is not entirely convinced that much of the mainstream dietary advice we hear today is deeply flawed, observed that Dr. Wahls must have a specific susceptibility to MS and implied that Dr. Wahls’ genetic susceptibility, more than her diet, was the culprit.

While I certainly concede that genetics likely plays a role in MS, and in many other disorders, I argue that it’s misguided to think that the absence of the genetic factors means that the rest of us are without risk.

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