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Prevent Birth Defects: Health Officials Urge All Women Of Bearing Age To Take Folic Acid

Update Date: Jan 11, 2017 09:00 AM EST

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends a daily supplement of folic acid among child-bearing women to reduce the risk of neural tube defects.

This means that folic acid supplementation isn't just for expectant mothers. An independent panel of experts advised in 2009 that women who are pregnant or able to get pregnant should take a daily supplement of about 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid to prevent potentially fatal birth defects.

However, despite the mandatory addition of folic acid to enriched grain products in the country, many women still do not consume ample amounts of folic acid, a very important vitamin. In an editorial published in JAMA Pediatrics, Laura Mitchell, a professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center said that when folic acid is taken before or during early pregnancy, it could reduce the risk of having a child affected with neural tube defect.

The editorial came with a new report from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). In the report, health officials said that fortification was linked to a drop in neural tube defects, from 10.7 cases per 10,000 live births before fortification to seven cases after fortification.

"The USPSTF recommends that all women who are planning or capable of pregnancy take a daily supplement containing 0.4 to 0.8 mg (400-800 µg) of folic acid. (A recommendation)," the government agency said in the report published in JAMA Pediatrics.

"The USPSTF found convincing evidence that folic acid supplementation in the periconceptional period provides substantial benefits in reducing the risk of neural tube defects in the developing fetus," it added.

What Is Neural Tube Defect?

Neural tube defect includes anencephaly, a condition in which the baby is born without parts of the brain and skull. It also includes spina bifida, a condition that occurs when the spinal cord and the bones surrounding the spine do not form properly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in the United States, 3,000 pregnancies are affected by neural tube defects each year. Interestingly, Hispanic women have higher rates of this condition than non-Hispanic women. Across the globe, however, there are more than 300,000 babies born with neural tube defect each year.

The intake of folic acid among women of childbearing age can help prevent an estimated 150,000 to 210,000 of the more than 300,000 neural tube defects that occur each year in countries worldwide.

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