Folic Acid May Prevent Cleft Lip and Palate
A new study finds that women who take folic acid supplements early in their pregnancy can substantially reduce their baby's chances of being born with a facial cleft.
Schmalfeldt: A new study finds that women who take folic acid supplements early in their pregnancy can substantially reduce their baby's chances of being born with a facial cleft. Researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences that 0.4 milligrams a day of folic acid reduced by one third the baby's risk of isolated cleft lip — with or without cleft palate. Dr. Allen J. Wilcox, lead NIEHS author on the new study published online in the British Medical Journal, said the reasons for this finding remain something of a mystery.
Wilcox: That's an interesting question. The biological mechanism that's going in here is not clear. We know that folic acid has an essential role in the body's manufacture of DNA, which of course is the molecule that makes up our genes. And so, we can't survive without folic acid. But exactly how that mechanism works in the embryonic growth to create the cleft lip and palate — at this point, we don't know.
Schmalfeldt: The researchers examined the association between facial clefts and mothers' intake of folic acid supplements, multivitamins, and folates in diet. The researchers found that folic acid supplementation of 400 micrograms or more per day reduced the risk of isolated cleft lip with or without cleft palate by one-third, but had no apparent effect on the risk of cleft palate alone. Dr. Wilcox said the time for women who are thinking about having a baby to start taking folic acid is — now!
Wilcox: Well, I think one of the really important things for women to realize is that if they wait until they know that they're pregnant to start taking these vitamins, including folic acid, that it may be too late — it may be after the early embryo has already formed or not formed these essential structures that create the neural tube or the face. And so it's very important for women who might be pregnant or who are planning to get pregnant to start taking folic acid before they conceive. And that way they can be absolutely sure that they will be protected during the crucial time that the embryo is forming.
Schmalfeldt: Folic acid is a B vitamin found in leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, beans, and whole grains. It can also be taken as a vitamin supplement, and it is added to flour and other fortified foods. For more information on this study, visit www.niehs.nih.gov. From the National Institutes of Health, I'm Bill Schmalfeldt in Bethesda, Maryland.
About This Audio Report
Reporter: Bill Schmalfeldt
Sound Bite: Dr. Allen J. Wilcox
Topic: Pregnancy, Nutrition