In an attempt to help prevent neural tube defects in the developing embryo, more than 70 countries around the world, including the United States, require that their flour be fortified with folic acid. Unfortunately, the amount currently required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pales in comparison to what is needed to effectively combat neural tube defects. In order for women who may become pregnant to better ensure that their baby is born without this potentially life threatening disease the United States would need to at least double the amount that the average woman consumes, mainly from fortified bread. As a result, the realistic option is for women to take folic acid supplements on a daily basis before they become pregnant. So, “take the pills,” you might say. The problem is that neural tube defects occur in the embryo before a woman would know she is pregnant. The American Medical Association and the March of Dimes have been calling for the FDA to increase the amount of folic acid required in flour, but to no avail.

Zainab Al Bagdadi, an educator, and her son Ali, of Palatine, Illinois, were alarmed by the statistics. Al Bagdadi emphasized, “The government should make people aware of that and it should be advertised. They should educate people better.” Though she was blessed with two healthy pregnancies, she did not know that women were supposed to take folic acid supplements before becoming pregnant. “I just took the prenatal vitamins after I was pregnant. I was always concerned about the ingredients [in the vitamins I used to take] and their halal status.”

Ali was also disturbed by the numbers he discovered coming from the United Kingdom. Each year between 700 and 900 pregnancies are affected by neural tube defects in the United Kingdom, where flour is not fortified with folic acid. The United Kingdom experiences the highest rate of neural tube defects in all of Europe.

Folate and folic acid: they are basically the same. Folate is the term used for it when it is in its naturally occurring state, such as in fruits and vegetables, whereas folic acid is the term for the synthetic vitamin you would find on a fortified bread label and in supplements. Folic acid is a water soluble vitamin, meaning it leaves the body in urine each day and your body does not store the vitamin, as occurs with fat soluble vitamins.

This means we need to consume folic acid on a daily basis. It is responsible for helping to form red blood cells and synthesize DNA. Correspondingly, a lack of sufficient folic acid in the newly pregnant mother can result in a neural tube defect in her unborn child, such as spina bifida. Spina bifida is one of the most common birth defects, affecting one in every one thousand births throughout the world.

Since every woman should use folic acid supplements during her childbearing years, they should be taken at some point by half of the human population. Understandably, Muslim women may be concerned if folic acid supplements are halal. Dr. Mian Riaz, director of the Food Protein R&D Center at Texas A&M University explains, “I will say it is mashbooh [doubtful], since during the making of synthetic folic acid you can add some ingredients, chemicals, and additives which may not be halal.” Dr. Riaz explains that if all the chemicals and additives which are used are known, then a food scientist can determine if the synthetic folic acid is halal or not. All ingredients in IFANCA halal-certified supplements are researched to ensure their halal status. Look for the Crescent-M symbol on the product label to be sure your product is IFANCA halal-certified.

Suzann Audi earned her master’s degree in food science from Kansas State University. She lives in Illinois and enjoys volunteering at her mosque and children’s school.


IFANCA® has certified a number of folic acid products including products made by Boscogen, Inc., Nutrilite, and Pharmavite LLC. Look for the Crescent-M symbol on the product labels. Please note that not all of these products are available in every market. Check the website for regional availability. [IFANCA]