Posts Tagged ‘neural tube defects’

FDA approves folic acid fortification of corn masa — a great day for babies!

Thursday, April 14th, 2016

Hispanic mom and babyToday the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it will allow corn masa flour to be fortified with folic acid. This announcement is a victory for America’s mothers and babies, and caps more than 20 years of work by the March of Dimes to prevent serious birth defects of the brain and spine known as neural tube defects (NTDs).

Scientists have long recognized that folic acid can prevent NTDs.  After wheat flour and related products were required to be fortified with folic acid in 1996, the incidence of neural tube defects dropped by about one-third.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates folic acid fortification in the U.S. has saved about 1,300 babies each year from these fatal or devastating birth defects – a total of 26,000 babies born healthy since folic acid fortification began in 1998.

But corn masa flour wasn’t part of that rule, and that may be part of the reason that neural tube defect rates have remained higher among Hispanic babies. Foods like tortillas, tamales, pupusas, chips and taco shells can now be fortified. Adding folic acid to corn masa will help to prevent neural tube defects.

The March of Dimes looks forward to the prevention of even more NTDs in the U.S. — giving more babies a chance for a full, happy life, and giving their families the joy of a healthy child.

Please join us in thanking the FDA by tweeting to @US_FDA or posting on their Facebook wall with messages like these:

Join our Advocacy Action Center for updates about how you can make a difference for healthy pregnancies and healthy babies.

Folic acid fortification saves millions of dollars and reduces neural tube defects

Friday, January 15th, 2016

grainSince the U.S. started requiring that folic acid be added to certain foods (known as fortification), there has been a 28% reduction in cases of babies born with neural tube defects (NTDs). In addition, a recent study has found that fortification also saves hundreds of millions of dollars each year in medical and associated costs.

In 1998, to help women of child-bearing age get more folic acid, the US Food and Drug Administration mandated that grains, such as bread, pasta, and breakfast cereal be fortified with folic acid. Getting the right amount of folic acid before pregnancy helps to prevent birth defects of the brain and spinal cord, called neural tube defects (NTDs). Neural tube defects include anencephaly and spina bifida.

A study published this week, estimates how much money has been saved by fortifying grain products with folic acid. The study suggests that each year, folic acid fortification saves about $603 million dollars more than the cost of fortification. The estimated lifetime cost for medical care, special education, and caregiver time for a child born with spina bifida is approximately $791,900. Since fortification prevents about 767 cases of spina bifida each year, the annual cost savings are substantial. The authors of the study conclude that “Fortification with folic acid is effective in preventing NTDs and saves hundreds of millions of dollars each year.”

The March of Dimes supports fortifying corn masa flour with folic acid. By targeting food made with corn masa for folic acid fortification, it would be possible to lower the rate of NTDs among the Hispanic population as well.

Keep in mind that even if you eat a well-balanced diet that includes fortified foods, fruits and vegetables, it can still be hard to get enough folic acid. So make sure you take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid every day.

Have questions? Email us at AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Folic acid is in many cereals

Monday, January 11th, 2016

Bowl of cerealGetting enough folic acid before pregnancy doesn’t have to be a chore. Taking a multivitamin that contains folic acid is an easy way to get the amount you need. In addition, many breakfast cereals contain folic acid because it has been added to them – this is called fortification. You can check to see if your favorite cereal is fortified by reading the nutritional label on the box.

Here is information from the CDC along with a list of cereals fortified with folic acid.  Be sure to read the label to see the amount of folic acid in a single serving.

But remember…

Although cereal fortification is a good thing, it can still be hard to get enough folic acid every day. This is why taking a multi-vitamin that contains at least 400 micrograms of folic acid is recommended. But, be sure to check with your health care provider to see if you may need higher amounts of folic acid.

Once you’re pregnant, your folic acid needs will increase to at least 600 micrograms per day. Some women, like those who’ve had a pregnancy affected by NTDs (neural tube defects) or women with sickle cell disease, may need more.

Bottom line

Read labels, take your multivitamin with folic acid, and talk to your provider to make sure you are getting the right amount of folic acid every day, before you become pregnant, as well as during pregnancy.

Three common folic acid myths

Friday, January 8th, 2016

pills-moon vitaminWe receive a lot of questions about folic acid. Here are three of the most common misconceptions people seem to have.

Myth #1: Folic acid reduces the risk for ALL birth defects.

TRUTH: Folic acid reduces the risk of certain birth defects.

Folic acid reduces the risk for a very specific type of birth defect called a neural tube defect (NTD). The neural tube is the part of a developing baby that becomes the brain and spinal cord. A NTD can happen when the neural tube doesn’t close completely. This results in birth defects such as anencephaly and spina bifida. If all women take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day before getting pregnant and during early pregnancy, it may help reduce the number of pregnancies affected by NTDs by up to 70 percent.

Myth #2: Folic acid will help me to get pregnant.

TRUTH: Folic acid is important to take before pregnancy, but it will not help you to become pregnant.

Folic acid does not help a woman to conceive. However, it is recommended that ALL women take folic acid, even if they are not trying to get pregnant. This is because folic acid can help prevent neural tube defects only if it is taken BEFORE pregnancy and during the first few weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman even knows she is pregnant.

The neural tube is one of the first structures that is formed in a developing embryo, therefore you need to make sure you are taking folic acid BEFORE you are pregnant. And because nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, it’s important that all women take folic acid every day, even if they are not planning to get pregnant. So take a multivitamin that has 400 micrograms of folic acid in it every day. Most multivitamins have this amount, but check the label to be sure.

Myth #3: I eat a healthy diet, so I can get enough folic acid from food.

TRUTH: It may be possible, but most women will not get enough from their diet.

Folic acid is naturally available in many fruits and vegetables, including:

  • Beans, like lentils, pinto beans and black beans
  • Leafy green vegetables, like spinach and Romaine lettuce
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Peanuts (But don’t eat them if you have a peanut allergy)
  • Citrus fruits, like oranges and grapefruit

Many flours, breads, cereals, and pasta are fortified with folic acid, as well. This means they have folic acid added to them. You can look for the words “fortified” or “enriched” on the package to know if the product has folic acid in it.

However, it’s hard to get all the folic acid you need from food. And according to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), your body only absorbs about 50 % of that. So even if you eat foods that have folic acid in them, make sure you take your multivitamin each day too.

Some women, like those who’ve had a pregnancy affected by NTDs or women with sickle cell disease, may need more folic acid. Talk to your provider to make sure you get the right amount.

Have questions? Email us at AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Folic acid can help reduce the risk of spina bifida

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016

Holding a multivitamin 2If a woman of childbearing age takes 400 micrograms of folic acid every day before and during early pregnancy, it can help reduce her baby’s risk for neural tube defects (NTDs). NTDs are birth defects of the brain and spinal cord. Spina bifida is the most common neural tube defect, affecting 1,500 to 2000 babies a year.

A baby’s neural tube normally develops into the brain and spinal cord. It starts out as a tiny, flat ribbon that turns into a tube by the end of the first month of pregnancy. NTDs happen if the tube doesn’t close completely.

Since birth defects of the brain and spine happen in the first few weeks of pregnancy, they often occur before a woman knows she’s pregnant. This is why it is important for a woman of childbearing age to take folic acid every day, even if she isn’t planning a pregnancy any time soon. By the time a woman realizes she’s pregnant, it might be too late to prevent these birth defects.

Types of spina bifida

There are four types of spina bifida, ranging from mild to severe. The mildest form (occulta), usually doesn’t cause health problems. However, other forms such as closed neural tube, meningocele and myelomeningocele (also known as open spina bifida) may cause symptoms such as bladder problems, infections and paralysis.

Spina bifida can also cause a number of medical conditions. If your child has spina bifida, he will need a team of medical professionals to monitor his health:

  • Pediatrician – a doctor who takes care of babies and children
  • Developmental Behavioral Pediatrician – a pediatrician with additional training in developmental disorders
  • Neurologist – a doctor who treats problems of the nervous system, brain and spinal cord
  • Psychologist – a professional trained to treat social and mental health problems
  • Psychiatrist – a doctor who specializes in treating mental health disorders
  • Urologist – a doctor who treats problems of the urinary tract (kidneys, bladder, ureters, and urethra)
  • Orthopedist – a doctor trained to treat disorders of bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, nerves, tendons and overall physical movement problems
  • Occupational Therapist – a professional trained to help with activities of daily living and fine motor problems
  • Physical Therapist – a professional trained to treat movement, balance, strength and physical problems

Learn more about the causes, types and treatments of spina bifida, on our website.

Bottom line

Take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, BEFORE and early in pregnancy, to help prevent certain birth defects.

Watch our video to learn how you can get the right amount of folic acid BEFORE and during pregnancy to keep your baby healthy.

Folic acid – why is it important?

Monday, January 4th, 2016

folic acid vitaminFolic acid is a B vitamin that promotes cell growth and helps prevent certain birth defects. It is Folic Acid Awareness Week – a great time to become familiar with how this vitamin can help you and your baby.

Your body needs to make new cells every day for blood, skin, hair and nails. Folic acid also plays an important role in helping red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs to all parts of your body.

How can folic acid help your baby?

Folic acid helps prevent birth defects of the brain and spine, called neural tube defects, if taken before pregnancy and during the first few weeks of pregnancy.  So it is helpful to get in the habit of taking a multi-vitamin with at least 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, before you become pregnant.

Even if you are not planning to become pregnant, your body needs folic acid for normal growth and development.

What if you’re already pregnant?

Most pregnant women need to take a multi-vitamin with 600 micrograms of folic acid. Talk with your prenatal provider to see if this is the right dosage for you. A pregnant women needs extra folic acid throughout pregnancy to help produce the additional blood cells your body needs during pregnancy. Folic acid also supports the rapid growth of the placenta and fetus.

Can you get folic acid anywhere else?

Yes. Many foods have folic acid added to them. On packages of flour, breads, cereals and pastas, look for the words “fortified” or “enriched” – it means the product has folic acid added to it.

You can also get folic acid in its natural form – folate – in some fruits and vegetables. Folate can be found in spinach, black beans, peanuts and orange juice. Learn about the difference between folic acid and folate here.

Bottom line:

Even if you eat a well-balanced diet that includes fortified foods, fruits and veggies, it can still be hard to get enough folic acid every day.  By taking a multi-vitamin with at least 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, you will be sure to get the amount you need.

 

World BD day gets word out globally

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

Sick babyThe twitter-sphere was all aglow yesterday for the first-ever World Birth Defects Day. In fact, 6,154,146 people were reached worldwide! Yup. It’s not a typo.

Twelve leading global organizations including the March of Dimes, along with scores of other foundations, hospitals, health care providers, government agencies, parents and individuals with birth defects took to Twitter to raise awareness. People in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, England, Germany, Greece, India, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Mexico, Mongolia, Netherlands, Panama, Philippines, Rwanda, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland, Tanzania, Turkey, and individuals from all over the United States participated. As the day progressed, #worldbdday tweets continually popped up on my computer screen. In case you missed it, here is a snapshot of important messages.

Birth defects are surprisingly common

Did you know that every 4 ½ minutes a baby is born with a birth defect in the US?

In the US, about 1 in 5 babies die before their 1st birthday due to birth defects.

Birth defects affect 1 in 33 infants worldwide.

More than 8 million babies worldwide are born each year with a serious birth defect.

There are thousands of different birth defects, and about 70% of the causes are unknown.

The most common birth defects are heart defects, neural tube defects and Down syndrome.

In the US, a baby is born with a congenital heart defect every 15 minutes.

More than 300,000 major birth defects of the brain and spine occur worldwide each year.

Many birth defects are discovered after the baby leaves the hospital or within the 1st year of life.

More than 3.3 million children under 5 years of age die from birth defects each year.

Babies who survive & live with birth defects are at an increased risk for long-term disabilities & lifelong challenges.

Early intervention services may help babies w/ BDs; get your child help by starting early.

Birth defects are costly. Financial and emotional costs of birth defects take a toll on families and communities worldwide.

Learn how to decrease your risk of having a baby with birth defects

Taking folic acid before & early in pregnancy can help to reduce the risk for BDs of the brain & spine.

Smoking during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of certain BDs. It’s never too late to quit.

We can’t prevent all birth defects. We CAN prevent FASD! (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders)

FASDs are 100% preventable.

Alcohol can cause your baby to have BDs (heart, brain & other organs). Don’t drink if you are pregnant or trying to conceive.

Being overweight before pregnancy can increase the risk for some birth defects.

Not all BDs are preventable, but women can take steps toward a healthy pregnancy.

Make a PACT: plan ahead, avoid harmful substances, choose a healthy lifestyle, and talk to your doctor.

Raise awareness

Awareness of birth defects & the importance of care for children with these lifelong conditions is key.

The mission of the March of Dimes is to prevent birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.

March of Dimes has invested more than $50 million in birth defects research in the last 5 years.

Genetics has long been a main theme of March of Dimes research.

MOD grantees have discovered genes that cause or contribute to a number of common birth defects, including fragile X syndrome, cleft lip and palate, and heart defects.

These discoveries pave the way for treatments and preventions for these birth defects.

 

For more information, email AskUs@marchofdimes.org. See other topics in the series on Delays and Disabilities- How to get help for your child, here.

How can we prevent birth defects?

Friday, January 30th, 2015

speak to your health care providerBirth defects are common, costly, and critical.
Common: Every 4 ½ minutes in the United States, a baby is born with a birth defect.
Costly: Hospital costs for children and adults with birth defects exceeds $2.6 billion. That does not include outpatient expenses.
Critical: Birth defects cause 1 in every 5 deaths during the first year of life. They can result in lifelong challenges and disabilities.

As Birth Defects Prevention Month draws to a close, let’s recap what we know and look at steps that can be taken to prevent them.

Preconception and pregnancy planning
We know that it essential for a woman to take an active role in planning her pregnancy.  If you are thinking of having a baby or if you may want to have children sometime in the future, it is important to make a PACT: plan ahead, avoid harmful substances, choose a healthy lifestyle, and talk to your doctor. You can read more here.

Changing a few behaviors now can make a big difference when you are ready to have a baby. It is best to get any preexisting medical conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, under control before pregnancy. Some medications, such as opioid-based prescription pain medications, are not safe to use when you are pregnant. All of these concerns can be discussed with your doctor during a preconception checkup.

Folic acid fortification
It is well known that taking 400 micrograms of folic acid every day can help to reduce the risk of neural tube defects or NTDs (disorders of the brain and spine). Since the US mandated folic acid fortification of enriched cereal grain products in 1998, the rates of NTDs have decreased by 35%.  That means that there are 1,300 fewer NTDs each year as a result of fortification. And that translates into an annual cost savings of approximately $508 million.

Surveillance
State surveillance systems record the number of babies born with a birth defect each year. The information gained from these surveillance systems furthers research on the causes of birth defects. The data also helps researchers to better understand which populations are at highest risk for specific birth defects. This information can then be used by public health professionals, policymakers, and health care providers to implement prevention strategies.

Research
The March of Dimes is funding research to understand the causes of birth defects and to develop new ways to prevent and treat them. Some March of Dimes grantees are studying basic biological processes of development. A more advanced look at the process of development will help reveal what can go wrong along the way. Others researchers are conducting clinical studies aimed at finding ways to prevent or treat specific birth defects.

Birth Defects Prevention Month may be coming to an end, but there is still a lot of work to do. Go to the National Birth Defects Prevention Network to learn more.

Folic acid vs. folate

Monday, November 21st, 2011

broccoliYou’ve heard a lot about the importance of folic acid. Recently, a pregnant woman wrote to us and asked exactly what she would need to eat in order to get all her folic acid needs from food instead of a vitamin. Good question…complicated answer.

The first thing you need to know is that the natural form of folic acid is called folate. Folate is found in lentils, spinach, black beans, peanuts, oranges and orange juice, legumes, romaine lettuce, leafy green veggies and broccoli. But, you have to eat a lot of these foods to get the right amount of folic acid (400 mcg per day). Cooking and storage can destroy folate, so even if you have the best intentions, your plans may be foiled. To make matters worse, according to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), your body only absorbs about 50 % of folate from food. Not much!

Fortunately, there is a way around having to eat tons of lentils and broccoli every day. The manufactured or synthetic form of folate is called folic acid. Many grain products in the United States are fortified with folic acid (meaning folic acid is added to them). The best part of this is that your body actually absorbs folic acid better than it absorbs folate. In fact, your body absorbs approximately 85% percent of the folic acid in fortified foods and 100% of the folic acid in a vitamin supplement. (I like these numbers a lot more!) That is a whole lot more than only 50% your body absorbs from foods with folate.

So where can you find these fortified foods? Enriched is the magic word. Enriched flour, rice, pasta, bread and cereals are examples of fortified grain products. You can check the label to see if a product is enriched and to see how much folic acid each serving contains.

Here’s even better news…Many studies have shown that the synthetic form of folic acid helps prevent NTDs (neural tube defects) – a kind of birth defect. This is why the IOM, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the March of Dimes recommend that all women of childbearing age consume at least 400 micrograms a day of the synthetic form of folic acid.

A simple solution…

You can eat a serving of fortified cereal that contains 100% of the daily value of folic acid every day. Or…(drumroll please…) you can pop a vitamin. Of course, a healthy diet is very important, but taking a daily multivitamin that contains at least 400 mcg of folic acid (or at least 600 mcg if you are pregnant) is key in ensuring that you are getting and absorbing the folic acid that your body needs – whether you are planning on getting pregnant or not. It really couldn’t be easier.

Updated January 2016

Vitamins – good or bad?

Friday, October 14th, 2011

pillsYou may have read or heard on the news lately that a couple of recent studies are showing concerns about the health benefits of taking vitamins and supplements. While some vitamins may be questionable, folic acid is very important for all women of childbearing age. It helps to protect developing babies from certain birth defects. So keep taking it.

According to a couple of these new studies, vitamins may not be as beneficial as previously thought. The research suggests that in some instances some vitamins may be harmful as we get older. One study of older women suggests that taking vitamin supplements, including folic acid, may slightly increase a woman’s risk of death after the age of 62. Another study of men states that taking vitamin E supplements may significantly increase the risk of prostate cancer.    HOWEVER, these are single studies and much more research needs to be done before we know how accurate these results may be.

Here is what we do know now. Research has repeatedly demonstrated that all women of childbearing age should take 400 micrograms of folic acid before getting pregnant to help prevent neural tube defects (serious birth defects of the brain and spine). This is especially important since about half of all pregnancies are unplanned. During pregnancy, women should get at least 600 micrograms of folic acid.

If you have any questions about taking vitamins, talk with your health care provider.