Study refines remedy to birth defects

University researchers can now tell women not only how much folic acid is needed to prevent birth defects but also that many women are not getting enough of the nutrient.
Folic acid is a B vitamin that can be consumed through Brussels sprouts, green beans, oranges and yeast. Researchers at the University’s School of Public Health recently completed a study that shows that women attempting to become pregnant should have at least 300 nanograms — 300 billionths of a gram — of folic acid per milliliter in their red blood cells to avoid neural tube birth defects.
The study, the only of its type, will be published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
To achieve a proper folic acid level, University epidemiology Professor Judith Brown, the study’s author, found that the optimal intake of folic acid is 450 micrograms — 450 millionths — per day. “We’ve known adequate folate lowers the risk of defects by as much as 50 to 70 percent,” Brown said. “But we haven’t known how much to tell women to take until now.”
Neural tube defects are caused when the neural tube, a tissue that becomes the baby’s spine, fails to develop properly. The most common condition caused by lack of folic acid, spina bifida, makes one or more vertebrae fail to develop, leaving gaps where the spinal cord and nerves are damaged.
Since the original folic acid recommendations came out in 1992, researchers have suggested that women consume at least 400 micrograms of folic acid per day to avoid birth defects in their unborn children.
— Kelly Wittman