Groups give vitamins to up folic acid intake

Loye Nelson, 30, of Gainesville looks at a bottle of free multivitamins given to her by community health nursing consultant Julia Makatura, at right, while children Brayden, 2, and Kendra, 4, Nelson play at the Alachua County Health Department.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, January 29, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 28, 2005 at 10:20 p.m.
Listen up, ladies. When it comes to folic acid, a little bit can go a long way toward preventing such birth defects as spina bifida.
In fact, the latest studies show it might even lower your risk of developing high blood pressure.
What's not to like about this essential B vitamin that is included in multivitamin supplements and added to fortified breakfast cereals and enriched breads?
Recognizing the importance of folic acid in preventing serious birth defects of the brain or spine, called neural tube defects, in the first weeks of a woman's pregnancy, the state Department of Health and the March of Dimes have joined forces to help spread the word to all women of childbearing age.
Gail Rampersaud is a registered dietitian and assistant in nutrition research and education in the University of Florida's department of food science and human nutrition.
She warns that although the educational campaign has made some inroads, there is still a lot of work left to do in terms of raising awareness about folic acid.
Since 1998, when the Food and Drug Administration began requiring the addition of folic acid to enriched cereal grain products (breads, cereals, flours, pasta) as well as rice and other grain products, the number of babies born with neural tube defects has dropped 25 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We believe that figure could be as high as 70 percent," Rampersaud said, if every woman who knew about the importance of folic acid followed through by taking a multivitamin every day.
Each year, about 3,000 babies in the United States, including 80 in Florida, are born with a neural tube defect. In babies with spina bifida, the spinal cord and back bones do not develop properly. When the upper end of the neural tube doesn't close, the brain either never completely develops or is totally absent. The estimated cost of medical care for people with spina bifida in the United States exceeds $200 million a year.
These defects develop in the earliest days of pregnancy, often before a woman even realizes that she is expecting.
Emerging research shows that folic acid, in addition to preventing such defects, may reduce the risk of cleft lip, cleft palate and heart defects in the developing fetus.
Any multivitamin formula will provide the minimum daily requirement of 400 micrograms of folic acid. Naturally occurring folate is found in beans, leafy green vegetables, orange juice, strawberries, peanuts and other food sources.
The March of Dimes, Florida Department of Health and Florida Birth Defects Registry have teamed up to provide 150,000 bottles of multivitamins along with educational materials on folic acid to women through county health departments and other social service organizations.
Although the goal is to reach women who are thinking of becoming pregnant, a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that women who took 1,000 micrograms of folic acid a day significantly reduced their risk of developing hypertension.
The report is part of the ongoing Nurses' Health Study, tracking 94,000 women ages 27 to 44 over eight years.
Couple that with smaller studies that showed the health benefits of folic acid in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's disease, and colon, cervical and breast cancer.
The message is clear: Take your vitamins; you have nothing to lose. And for your baby, there is everything to gain.
Diane Chun can be reached at (352) 374-5041 or chund@


  • Call the Florida Department of Health's family health line, 1-800-451-2229.
  • Visit the Florida Folic Acid Coalition's Web site,
  • Check out on the Internet.
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