Folic acid fortification of grain foods has produced a one-third decline in serious birth defects of the brain and spine, but the March of Dimes urged federal officials to help spare a greater number of babies from these devastating conditions by requiring higher levels of the B vitamin.
Since 1996, the March of Dimes has recommended that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration set the level of folic acid required in enriched grain foods at 350 micrograms per 100 grams of grain to prevent as many neural tube defects ( NTDs ) as possible.
A team of researchers led by Laura J. Williams, of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC ) reported that folic acid fortification accounted for a 36 percent decline in NTDs in the Hispanic population and a 34 percent drop among the white, non-Hispanic population between 1995 and 2002.
The prevalence of NTDs in the black, non-Hispanic population did not decrease significantly, the CDC researchers said.
In an accompanying editorial, Robert L. Brent, and Godfrey P. Oakley, call on FDA to at least double the amount of folic acid required in enriched grain foods ( currently set at 140 micrograms of folic acid per 100 grams of grain ).
They also urged FDA to require grain suppliers to add vitamin B12 to enriched products to optimize health effects from fortification.
The authors also urged the manufacturers of corn flour to make all their products enriched with folic acid, in order to prevent more NTDs among Hispanic babies.
Howse said the March of Dimes also supports the idea of enriching corn flour with folic acid to help prevent more NTDs among Hispanics and other populations for whom corn products are a dietary staple.
Before fortification, about 4,000 pregnancies annually were affected by a neural tube defect, some of which resulted in miscarriage or stillbirth.
Currently, about 1,000 fewer babies annually develop one of these devastating conditions in which the neural tube, the embryonic structure from which the brain and spinal cord are created, fails to close properly before birth.
To help prevent neural tube defects, the March of Dimes says, all women capable of becoming pregnant should consume a multivitamin with at least 400 micrograms of folic acid every day starting before pregnancy, as part of a healthy diet containing foods fortified with folic acid and foods that naturally contain folic acid, such as leafy green vegetables, and beans.
Daily consumption is crucial because neural tube defects occur in the early weeks following conception, often before a woman knows she is pregnant.
Source: March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, 2005