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November 30, 1999

Daily Intake of Folic Acid Before Pregnancy Can Prevent Some Birth Defects

Oklahoma City, OK (Safety Alerts) – Many women of childbearing age are unaware of a simple way they can help prevent a devastating birth defect. According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health all women who are capable of becoming pregnant should consume the B vitamin, folic acid, every day to reduce their risk of having a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect (NTD).

NTDs, are birth defects of the brain and spine, which include spina bifida (opening in the spine) and anencephaly (missing brain). An estimated 50 percent to 75 percent of these NTDs can be prevented if childbearing age women (teens to 50s) consume recommended amounts of folic acid before they become pregnant the report issued by the Oklahoma State Department of Health states.

Folic acid only works to prevent these birth defects if it is taken when a woman may not know she is pregnant, before and during the first few weeks of pregnancy.    This is the time frame where the neural tube is developing into the brain and spinal cord. The best way to get enough folic acid is to take a multivitamin containing 400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) of folic acid. It is not possible to get enough folic acid from food sources alone.

Many pregnancies are not planned.  "Half of all pregnancies in Oklahoma are not planned, so it is even more crucial that all women throughout their childbearing years should take a multivitamin containing 400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) of folic acid every day", said J.R. Nida, M.D., commissioner of health.

According to data from the Oklahoma State Department of Health's Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System the use of multivitamins with folic acid taken one month before pregnancy increased by only two percent from 1996 to 1997. These findings indicate that women are learning about the importance of folic acid, but they are not turning that knowledge into action by taking multivitamins with folic acid before pregnancy.

Provisional statewide data from the Oklahoma Birth Defects Registry (OBDR) for 1994 through 1996 estimated there were four cases of NTDs each month (1.4 anencephaly and 2.9 spina bifida). The national cost of medical and non-medical care related to spina bifida has been estimated at $324,000 per case. The emotional and financial cost is devastating to families.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health and the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation are collaborating in a statewide public health campaign to reduce NTDs in Oklahoma, with the theme of "Folic Acid – Make It a Habit." To accomplish this joint effort, the Oklahoma Coalition on Folic Acid (OCFA) was organized to reduce birth defects by promoting the consumption of folic acid among reproductive-age women. OCFA's goal is to reduce the number of NTDs by recommending that all women of childbearing age obtain their folic acid from these three sources each day: multivitamins or folic acid supplements containing 400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) of folic acid, foods fortified with folic acid and foods high in folate.

See related HealthScout articles:

Lack of Folic Acid May Cause Down Syndrome
Study offers first clue, but more research is needed.

Maternal, Infant Death Rates at All-Time Low
Advances help, but more can be done.

Low Folic Acid Linked to Leukemia
Gene mutations could protect against blood cancer.

For information about folic acid, call the Oklahoma State Department of Health at 1-800-766-2223 or in Oklahoma City (405) 271-4470.


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