A new study carried out by a team of international experts shows that a simple blood test given to women may reduce the risks of having an infant with neural tube defects.
According to the medical journal BMJ, women who have low folate levels in their red blood cell count are at least four times as likely to have babies with neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, anencephaly, encephaloceles, hydranencephaly, and more.
Neural tube defects are the leading disabling birth defects that can be can reduced significantly by simply taking folic acid daily. The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition advises women to take at least 400 mcg per day, starting at least 3 months before conception and throughout the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. However, in many instances, without taking a blood test, women are unaware that they are pregnant until past 8 weeks of pregnancy and most do not take folic acid supplements prior to pregnancy, leading to a heightened risk defects, especially those who may already be folic-deficient.
Researchers studied over 200,000 infants from population-based data in China, of which 250 of the babies were born with neural tube defects. Mothers with higher concentrations of folate, according to the study, are able to prevent neural tube defects during the time period in pregnancy in which the neural tube closure is complete. The study also indicates that there is a link between the red blood cell folate concentration that occurs around the 28th day of pregnancy, leading to a heightened risk of neural tube defects.
As a result, scientists state they can develop folic acid fortification schemes which can be used to monitor folic acid levels in pregnant women, and in turn detect deficiency. In addition, the biomarker can help pinpoint the women most as risk for having infants with neural tube defects. The results will help scientists create a worldwide neural tube defects prevention and education program.
In addition to supplements, folic acid can be found in a variety of foods, including:
- Certain breakfast cereals (be certain to check the labels)
- Green, leafy vegetables
- Citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruits, and lemons
- Whole grains
Although 400 mcg per day is the recommended amount, scientists are not 100% of the efficacy. In the meantime, women should not take over 1,000 mcg of folic acid per day, according to United States Department of Health and Human Services’ Women’s Department.