U.S. recommends vitamin to help prevent birth defects

September 15, 1992|By New York Times News Service

The U.S. Public Health Service recommended yesterday that all women of childbearing age take extra folic acid, a B vitamin, to prevent neural tube defects that affect 1 to 2 of every 1,000 babies born each year. The effects of these birth defects include paralysis and death.

Researchers on birth defects and nutrition said that if the advice was followed the incidence of neural tube defects like spina bifida and anencephaly should fall to between one-quarter and one-half the current figure of 2,300 cases a year.

The woman were urged to take 0.4 milligrams of folic acid a day. Women on average consume just half that, said Dr. Irwin Rosenberg, a professor of medicine and nutrition at Tufts University in Boston.

Dr. Steven Laubacher, the executive director of the Spina Bifida Association of America, said: "At our organization, we try to discipline ourselves to be reserved. But this points in the direction of a major, major breakthrough."

Dr. Rosenberg said: "I think this is going to be precedent-setting in respect to the whole business of health claims, supplements and fortification." He added: "Let's hope it comes out right."

Neural tube defects include anencephaly, in which most of the brain is missing, and spina bifida, in which a piece of the spinal cord protrudes from the spinal column, causing paralysis of parts of the lower body. Spina bifida also may be accompanied by hydrocephaly, in which fluid fails to drain properly form the skull, a condition that can result in mental retardation.

Vegetables like spinach and broccoli are especially rich in folic acid. But a lot of vegetables must been eaten to ingest 0.4 milligrams of folic acid a day.

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