Friday, February 01, 2013

Consuming Folic Acid Can Help Reduce Risk of Certain Types of Birth Defects Says Extension Nutrition Specialist

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3,000 pregnancies in the U.S. are affected by neural tube defects every year. Neural tube defects are birth defects that impact the brain and spinal cord; the most common are spina bifida and anencephaly.

With spina bifida, the spine does not close fully, usually resulting in nerve damage and paralysis of the legs. With anencephaly, the brain and skull do not form correctly, and babies with this condition do not survive.

“Not all birth defects can be prevented but the risk of neural tube defects can be significantly reduced by consuming folic acid,” said Christeena Haynes, a nutrition and health education specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

Folic acid is a B vitamin that the body needs to make new cells. According to Haynes, every person needs folic acid.

“But, because folic acid has such a crucial role in the prevention of neural tube defects, it is recommended that every woman who is able to become pregnant consume 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid each day,” said Haynes.

Folic acid can be found in foods such as dark leafy greens, avocado, orange juice, and eggs.

To be sure you are getting the recommended amount of folic acid, Haynes says it is important to take a multivitamin with 100 percent daily value of folic acid or a single folic acid supplement, or eat a serving of cereal that has been fortified with 100 percent daily value of folic acid for breakfast every morning.

“Neural tube defects occur during the first few weeks of pregnancy, so it is important for all women to take folic acid daily, even if they are not pregnant or planning to get pregnant. Women should continue to take it throughout their pregnancy,” said Haynes.

For more information on nutrition issues, go online to or contact one of the nutrition and health education specialists working in the Ozarks: Christeena Haynes, in Dallas County, (417) 345-7551; Dr. Lydia Kaume in Barton County, (417) 682-3579; or Dr. Pam Duitsman, in Springfield, (417) 886-2059.


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