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Additional food supplementation could prevent thousands of birth defects, researchers say

pregnant-1245703_1920Adequate folic acid consumption during pregnancy is known to lower the risk of two serious birth defects: spina bifida, a spinal defect, and anencephaly, absence of parts of the brain and skull.

It seems evident that ensuring pregnant women consume enough folic acid -- by supplementing the food supply with the B vitamin -- would reduce the prevalence of these defects. In May, however, Stanford researchers failed to find the expected correlation between fortification and a decline of these birth defects in California. These birth defects were already declining for unknown reasons before fortification began, and fortification was correlated with a slowing of the decline, their study showed.

Now, researchers from Emory University have published a new study that makes the case for boosting fortification worldwide. They found that only 15 percent of the cases of folic acid-preventable spina bifida and anencephaly are actually being prevented with supplementation. A press release explains:

The researchers measured the current status of folic acid-preventable spina bifida and anencephaly worldwide.


According to study results, in the year 2015, there were about 35,500 fewer births with spina bifida and anencephaly, a commendable prevention achieved in 58 countries through mandatory folic acid fortification of wheat and maize flour. However, this also points to the urgency of preventing about 233,000 other [folic acid-preventable spina bifida and anencephaly] cases that are still occurring in the remaining countries without effective folic acid interventions, say the authors. Most of Europe, Africa, and Asia is not implementing mandatory fortification with folic acid.

Senior author Godfrey Oakley, Jr., MD, director for the Center for Spina Bifida Prevention at Emory, commented: "Ignoring a... strategy for preventing serious birth defects can be compared to having a vaccine for Zika virus and not using it."

The research appears in Birth Defects Research Part A Clinical and Molecular Teratology.

The takeaway? Many questions remain concerning the effectiveness and implementation of food supply supplementation.

Previously: Better diet in pregnancy shown to protect against birth defects, Birth defects linked to air pollution in new Stanford study, Talking about the Zika virus and Zika virus poses risk of Guillain-Barré syndrome, Stanford neurologist warns
Photo by StanfordMedicineStaff

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