Spina Bifida and Folic Acid Link

Spina Bifida and Folic Acid Link

Health experts are calling on young women to increase their folic acid intake well in advance of conception and throughout pregnancy to reduce the possibility of spina bifida developing in their children.

Every year, around 50 babies in Australia are born alive with spina bifida, which can cause severe lifelong disabilities, including lower limb paralysis and learning difficulties. Women younger than 30 years of age have significantly higher rates of spina-bifida-affected pregnancies than women aged over 30.

Overall, rates of spina bifida among births have declined since 1982,2 but there was no significant decrease during the period 1998-2005 despite early diagnosis, health education and health promotion programs, and voluntary fortification of food with folic acid.

Dr. Anne Clark, member of the Fertility Society of Australia, said: "It's been fifty years since folic acid was first thought to prevent birth defects, yet not all women are heeding medical and Government advice that would help reduce rates of spina bifida even further."

Folic acid is necessary for the production and maintenance of new cells, which is especially important during periods of rapid cell division and growth such as infancy and pregnancy. The National Health & Medical Research Council recommends that all women planning to become pregnant should take folic acid supplements irrespective of their level of dietary folate intake.

Women must take more care in planning their pregnancies to help reduce rates of spina bifida further. Increased intake of multivitamins high in folic acid before pregnancy and through to the third trimester can reduce the chances of an unborn baby developing spina bifida, especially in women who have low absorption of folic acid," Dr. Clark said.

Government guidelines advise pregnant women to have a diet high in folic acid, either through eating the right food or by taking folic acid supplements.4 In 2009, the government legislated for the addition of folic acid in bread in an effort to increase women's intake of folic acid.

In 1960, Nelson et al reported on the effects of folate deficiency on the development of rat embryos. The relationship between foetal malformation and folic acid was investigated in greater detail and, in 1965, the Lancet published research by Hibbard and Smithells who proposed the link between a defect in folate metabolism and neural tube defects in humans

In 1992, Czeizel and Dudas confirmed that a multivitamin supplementation including 0.8 mg folic acid supplement prevents the occurrence of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida.