Harold Newmark is calling on the US Food and Drug Administration to add calcium and vitamin D to the existing FDA-mandated enrichment mix in products such as bread and pasta. He contends the measure could save 11,000 lives and an estimated $3 billion in US health care costs annually.
In an article appearing in the 1 August issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (p64), Newmark and colleagues at Rutgers University propose these nutrients be added to the current enrichment programme for cereal-grain products.
"The benefits would be a significant reduction in the incidences of osteoporosis and colon cancer over time and an overall improvement in health at a modest financial cost and with minor modification of existing technology," the paper concludes.
Their requests are based on the widely understood role of calcium in bone health and growing knowledge of its its effect in the colon. In the presence of high-fat diets - increasingly common in the developed world - calcium helps inactivate the resulting fatty acids in the colon that produce irritation, cell damage and other effects that can lead to cancer, Newmark says. Vitamin D aids in the absorption of dietary calcium by the body.
For decades, researchers have recognized the role of calcium in reducing the risk of diseases such as osteoporosis and colon cancer, but this has not been reflected in federal regulations, he argues further.
US Department of Agriculture surveys cited in the paper show that Americans consume inadequate dietary calcium and vitamin D - far below the recommended levels established by the Food Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.
The US requires the enrichment of certain cereal-derived food products with vitamins and minerals such as thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and iron, but calcium and vitamin D are optional and consequently ignored by producers, the authors contend.
"For about 10 cents per person per year, we can use existing technology to correct all this," Newmark says. "We believe that the time has come for a full scientific review of cereal-grain enrichment with calcium and vitamin D as a low-cost, safe and useful route for the reduction of osteoporosis and colon cancer in the United States in both men and women."
In Europe however campaigners are still battling to have folic acid added to the required vitamins included in flour. Mandatory calcium and vitamin D could be a long way off but there is increasing evidence that low intake of vitamin D may be damaging health.
Recent studies have found vitamin D intake to be inversely associated with rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. It has also been found to reduce colon cancer risk and been linked to heart disease.
There is enough evidence of the vitamin's association with a number of diseases to carry out further studies investigating optimal levels for our health, Sue Fairweather-Tait, head of nutrition at the UK's Institue of Food Research, told NutraIngredients.com in a recent interview.
"Fortification, if done sensibly, is the only way to achieve optimum vitamin D levels. The best source of vitamin D at the moment is fortified cereals," she said.