Folic acid reduces risk of birth defects


Published: Monday, January 9, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 8, 2006 at 9:51 p.m.
"Folic Acid: You Don't Know What You're Missing!"
That's the theme for 2006 National Folic Acid Awareness Week on Jan. 9-15, promoted in Florida by the Florida Folic Acid Coalition at UF's Food Science and Human Nutrition Department. The goal is to increase awareness of the health benefits of folic acid across the lifespan.
Folic acid is a B vitamin. It has been shown to reduce the risk for birth defects known as neural tube defects, or NTDs, such as spina bifida (open spine) and anencephaly. Folic acid must be taken before pregnancy to reduce the risk for NTDs.
The Institute of Medicine recommends women capable of becoming pregnant take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily from supplements, fortified foods, or both in addition to consuming food folate from a varied diet. Research has shown folic acid may reduce the risk for other birth defects such as heart defects, cleft lip, cleft palate and limb defects.
A recent March of Dimes survey demonstrated that only 7 percent of women know folic acid must be taken before pregnancy to reduce the risk for NTDs and only one-third of women of childbearing age take folic acid daily. It is estimated that if all women of childbearing age took 400 micrograms of folic acid daily, up to 70 percent of NTDs could be prevented.
Currently 3,000 babies in the United States, including 80 babies in Florida, are born each year with an NTD, resulting in substantial emotional and financial impacts on affected families.
We encourage all women of childbearing age to make sure they get 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. Taking a multivitamin is the best way to be sure of getting the recommended amount. To learn more, visit the Web site of the Florida Folic Acid Coalition at www.FolicAcidNow.net.
Ron Lutz, coordinator, Florida Folic Acid Coalition, University of Florida

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