MONDAY, Sept. 27, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Fortifying food with folic acid can greatly reduce the incidence of spina bifida and other birth defects, says a Canadian study in the latest issue of BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth.
The study found a 78 percent reduction in the number of babies born with nerual tube defects in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador after the Canadian government made it mandatory in 1998 that folic acid had to be added to pasta, flour and cornmeal.
Historically, Newfoundland and Labrador has had among the highest rates of neural tube defects in North America.
After folic fortification was introduced, the dietary intake of folic acid increased by an average of 70 micrograms per day among a group of women of childbearing age in Newfoundland and Labrador who took part in the study. The incidence of neural tube defects in the province went from an average of 4.36 defects per 1,000 births between 1991 and 1997 to an average of 0.96 defects per 1,000 births between 1998 and 2001.
The study noted that over the study period, the number of women aged 19 to 44 who took folic acid supplements increased from 17 percent to 28 percent. The authors noted that it wasn't possible for their study to determine the separate contributions of folic acid supplement use and food fortification to the province's reduction of neural tube defects.
Therefore, "public education regarding folic acid supplement use by women of childbearing age should continue," the authors wrote.
Since the early 1990s, many health organizations have recommended that women take 400 micrograms of supplemental folic acid per day before they conceive and in the early weeks of pregnancy.
The National Women's Health Information Center has more about folic acid.