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For Release: January 6, 2012 – Pamela Williams, Office of Communications – (405) 271-5601

Folic Acid Reduces Risk of Neural Tube Defects (NTDs) in Babies

Did you know that if a woman has enough folic acid in her body before and during pregnancy, it can help prevent major birth defects to a baby’s brain and spine?

The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) and the National Council on Folic Acid are working together to educate consumers and health care providers about the benefits of taking folic acid to reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs). Approximately 3,000 pregnancies are affected by NTDs each year in the United States, with about 36 affected pregnancies occurring in Oklahoma.  Nearly 50 percent of pregnancies in the U.S. are not planned, thus it is important for all women of childbearing age to take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms of the B-vitamin folic acid every day, even if they’re not planning to get pregnant.

“Since 1998, grain and cereal products have been fortified with folic acid in order to reduce 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. Multivitamins help fill in those nutrition gaps in the diet, especially when it comes to getting enough folic acid,” said Sharon Vaz, coordinator, Oklahoma Birth Defects Registry. “We hope women will use the start of a new year to add this easy, but important habit, to their daily health routine.”

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 the body to absorb than folate, plus 50 to 90 percent of food folate is destroyed in cooking. Folic acid is an essential B-vitamin as it helps the body build DNA and it is used in cell growth and reproduction.

The most common NTDs are spina bifida and anencephaly.  However, there are some indications that folic acid use may also reduce the risk for other birth defects, such as cleft lip and palate and certain congenital heart defects.  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. Anencephaly, an absence or deficiency of a major portion of the cranial vault (skull), results in stillbirth or death shortly after birth.

For more information about folic acid awareness, visit: www.folicacidinfo.org.  For general information about having healthy babies, view “Preparing for a Lifetime, It’s Everyone’s Responsibility” on the OSDH website at http://iio.health.ok.gov

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