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For Release: December 30, 2010
Contact: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
(405) 271-5601

Folic Acid Reduces Risk of Neural Tube Defects (NTDs) in Babies
January 2-8, 2011 is National Folic Acid Awareness Week

The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) works to educate consumers and health care providers about the benefits of folic acid.  “Jan. 2-8, 2011, is Folic Acid Awareness Week, but every week is important when it comes to taking folic acid.  Men and women, especially women of child bearing age, can start the New Year off right by taking a multivitamin with 400 mcg of the B-vitamin folic acid every day to stay healthy,” said Oklahoma Birth Defects Registry Coordinator Kay Pearson.

“Most people do not know that it is hard to get certain vitamins from food alone.  Many believe they do not need to take multivitamins because they eat healthy foods.  Multivitamins help fill in those nutrition gaps in the diet, especially when it comes to getting enough folic acid,” Pearson said.

In 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration started fortifying grain and cereal products withfolic acid in order to reduce neural tube defects (NTDs). While this was a great step in the fight to prevent birth defects, it is not enough to protect all women and their potential children.

Folic acid is the synthetic form of the naturally occurring folate in foods.  Folate is found in foods such as leafy green vegetables, beans, liver and some fruit. The synthetic version, folic acid, is found in multivitamins and fortified foods like breakfast cereal, pasta and bread. Folic acid is easier for your body to absorb than folate, plus 50 to 90 percent of food folate is destroyed in cooking.

Folic acid is an essential B-vitamin; therefore, everyone needs it in order to stay in good health. Folic acid helps build DNA and your body uses it for cell growth and reproduction, fundamental building block processing and genetic material production. Folic acid is water soluble, therefore it passes through your body very quickly. Taking folic acid every day ensures that you always have it in your system when your body needs it.

“Since 50 percent of pregnancies are unplanned, it’s important to take folic acid every day, even if you’re not planning to get pregnant,” Pearson said.

The most common NTDs are spina bifida and anencephaly.  Spina bifida, a visible sack or epithelial defect (opening in the spine), causes varying degrees of disability related to paralysis, lack of bowel and bladder control and hydrocephalus. With the help of medical care, babies born with spina bifida reach adulthood.  Anencephaly, absence or deficiency of a major portion of the cranial vault (skull), results in stillbirth or death shortly after birth. Approximately 3,000 pregnancies are affected by NTDs each year in the United States of which about 36 affected pregnancies occur in Oklahoma.

The OSDH is a member of the National Council on Folic Acid (NCFA), a partnership of national organizations, associations and state folic acid councils reaching over 100 million people a year with the folic acid message.  To help women remember to take folic acid and other important health tips, a 2011 calendar with monthly health goals is available at www.folicacidinfo.org.  By working on a separate goal one month at a time, at the end of 2011, women can improve their overall health and wellness. 

For more information about folic acid and National Folic Acid Awareness Week, contact Kay Pearson at (405) 271-6617 or kayp@health.ok.gov.  For more information about having healthy babies, view the “Preparing for a Lifetime, It’s Everyone’s Responsibility” public education campaign on the OSDH Web site at http://iio.health.ok.gov.

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