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You are here : 3-RX.com > Home > Gender: Female -

U.S. women taking fewer folic acid supplements

Gender: FemaleSep 30, 05

Fewer American women are taking daily vitamins with folic acid during their childbearing years, raising fears of a jump in spina bifida and other birth defects, a U.S. study suggested on Thursday.

The incidence of these devastating birth defects has been shown to fall by up to 70 percent when women take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily as part of a healthy diet before conception and in the first trimester of pregnancy.

Although folic acid is found in leafy green vegetables, some beans, orange juice and enriched bread and grains, women between the ages of 18 and 45 are often advised to take daily supplements to ensure they get the required amount.

But only 33 percent did so in 2005, according to a March of Dimes Gallup telephone survey, which was published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That was down from 40 percent in 2004.

The most common reason women gave for not taking the daily supplement this year was that they forgot, researchers said.

In 1998 the Food and Drug Administration made it mandatory for enriched bread, pasta and other cereal grains to be fortified with folic acid. Since then, the incidence of spina bifida and anencephaly has dropped about 25 percent to roughly 3,000 cases each year.

“We need to increase the amount of folic acid in the grain supply and add it to corn flour,” said Dr. Jennifer Howse, president of the March of Dimes. “That way, women will get most of the folic acid they need through a healthy diet - without having to think about it - and their babies will be safer.”

Early in the first trimester of pregnancy, before many women realize they are pregnant, the fetus develops its neural tube, which eventually becomes the baby’s brain and spinal cord.

Inadequate intake of folic acid can lead to spina bifida, a deformation of the spine and the leading cause of childhood paralysis in the United States. Another result can be anencephaly, the congenital absence of much of the brain and spinal cord. This can result in miscarriage, stillbirth or an infant’s death shortly after birth.

Women who are trying to get pregnant may take folic acid supplements but about half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned.

U.S. health officials, who hope to achieve a 50-percent reduction in spina bifida and related defects by 2010, said they were designing programs, including one focused on women in college, to raise folic acid consumption.

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