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Healthier Diet Linked to Reduced Congenital Heart Defects

Tied to reduced risks of tetralogy of Fallot and atrial septal defects

TUESDAY, Aug. 25, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Women who follow a very healthy diet are much less likely than those who eat poorly to have a baby with tetralogy of Fallot or atrial septal defects, according to a study published online Aug. 24 in the Archives of Disease in Childhood-Fetal & Neonatal Edition.

Lorenzo Botto, M.D., a professor of pediatrics and a medical geneticist at the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City, and colleagues evaluated data from 9,885 mothers of babies born with heart defects, and 9,468 mothers of healthy infants. The babies were born between October 1997 and December 2009, and are part of the larger, federally-funded National Birth Defects Prevention Study, Botto said. Mothers were asked about what they ate in the year prior to their pregnancy. Researchers graded their diet based on the Mediterranean Diet Score and the Diet Quality Index for Pregnancy, which provide positive scores for grains, vegetables, fruits, folate, iron and calcium, and negative scores for calories from fats or sweets.

Mothers who scored in the top 25 percent of dietary quality had a significantly lower risk of having an infant born with a heart defect, compared with those who scored in the bottom 25 percent (odds ratios, 0.63 and 0.77 for tetralogy of Fallot and atrial septal defects, respectively).

The findings support the need for women to eat a healthful diet even before they have conceived, since birth defects can occur very early in pregnancy. If a woman waits to eat right after she's pregnant, it could be too late, the researchers said. "We know that birth defects happen in the very first weeks after conception. For heart anomalies, the first four to seven weeks," Botto told HealthDay.

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