Can Spina Bifida be prevented?

Spina Bifida is a birth defect that can happen to anyone. We do not know the exact cause of Spina Bifida, but research has shown that if a woman takes 0,4 mg of Folic Acid every day for 3 months during her pregnancy and two month before she becomes pregnant, she reduces her risk of having a baby with Spina Bifida or another neural tube defect by as much as 70%. Folic Acid helps the body to build healthy cells. Folic Acid is most important when your body is building lots of new cells, like before and during pregnancy. That is why it is important to get enough Folic Acid every day.

What is Folic acid

Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate that can be found in supplements and added to fortified foods. Folic Acid (Vitamin B9) is a simple, inexpensive supplement which reduces the incidence of spina bifida and other neural tube defects in the foetus if taken by women prior to conception and for the first three months of pregnancy. It is important for a woman to have enough folic acid in her system before pregnancy and during the early weeks of pregnancy, before the neural tube closes. The recommended intake is 0.6mg per day, but as a normal diet cannot provide this level of folic acid, an extra 0.4mg per day is required. Folic Acid helps your body build healthy cells. It is important to get in the habit of taking a vitamin with Folic Acid every day so that your body has enough when you need it.

IF recommends that all women of childbearing age take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, two months before pregnancy and during first three months of pregnancy, as part of a healthy diet.

Who needs Folic acid

Everyone! Just about everyone needs to take a vitamin with Folic Acid every day. Folic Acid is an important vitamin that is recommended for all men and women. Folic Acid is most important for any woman who could possibly become pregnant. Even if you are not planning to become pregnant, your body needs Folic Acid every day. Most people do not plan a pregnancy, so it is important to get in the habit of taking Folic Acid so that your body has it when you need it.

Recurrence Prevention

Women who are at high risk of having a child with Spina Bifida, because they have had an affected pregnancy before, or have a history of Spina Bifida in their family, or have Spina Bifida themselves, should take a prescription level of 4000 mcg (4,0 mg) of Folic Acid.

A healthy diet can help

Many studies have shown that diet is a contributory factor to the well-being of the foetus and it would seem prudent for women who are planning to become pregnant to ensure that their diet is reinforced with items in which folic acid naturally occurs. These include barley, baked beans, brewer’s yeast, endive, chick peas, green leafy vegetables, lentils, orange juice, oranges, peas, rice, soya beans, split peas, sprouts, wheat and wheat germ. Vegetables should be lightly cooked as over-boiling destroys their vitamin content. Advice to eat liver should not be heeded: liver contains concentrations of vitamin A which, when added to vitamin A intake from other foods, can damage the unborn baby.Some substances may affect the absorption of folic acid so, if you are taking any medication, do check this out with your doctor. If you are on anticonvulsant medication, you should consult your neurologist before taking folic acid, as folic acid and some anticonvulsants can be antagonists (ie work against each other).

Folic acid supplements taken before conception can reduce the risk of neural tube defects recurring. They will not however, guarantee the elimination of neural tube defects, such as Spina Bifida. IF remains committed to supporting research into the causes of neural tube defects, their effects on people’s life and the continuing support of the many thousands of people with Spina Bifida, and their families.

(Source: International Federation for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus in Brussels, Belgium)

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