Importance of Folic Acid in Preventing Neural Tube Defects
Folic acid is the synthetic form of the naturally occurring folate in foods. Folate is found in foods such as leafy green vegetables, beans, liver and some fruit. The synthetic version, folic acid, is found in multivitamins and fortified foods like breakfast cereal, pasta and bread. Folic acid is easier for the human body to absorb than folate, plus 50 to 90 percent of food folate is destroyed in cooking.
Folic acid is an essential B-vitamin that helps build DNA, and the human body uses it for cell growth and reproduction, fundamental building block processing and genetic material production. For women in their childbearing years, it is particularly important to consume 400 mcg of folic acid daily. Folic Acid has been shown to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in developing babies by up to 70 percent. The most common neural tube defects are spina bifida and anencephaly. Taking folic acid before pregnancy begins is an important way to reduce neural tube defects, since these birth defects occur in the first weeks of fetal development, often before a woman even knows she is pregnant.
While all enriched cereals and grain products in the U.S. are fortified with folic acid, it is also recommended that women of childbearing age take a multivitamin containing folic acid every day to ensure they get the full recommended amount of 400 mcg.
The Teratology Society is committed to the prevention of birth defects and disorders of developmental origin globally. The United States, like several other countries, requires mandatory fortification of enriched cereal grains with folic acid. Since fortification was required in 1998, the United States has seen a 27% decrease in neural tube defects, including spina bifida and anencephaly. To encourage additional countries to require fortification with folic acid, the Society has adopted a Resolution on Folic Acid Fortification which has been published in the Society's journal Birth Defects Research Part A.
Watch this CDC Video, featuring several Teratology Society members, to learn about how scientists discovered the link between folic acid fortification and the prevention of neural tube defects.
The following sites provide additional information and resources regarding folic acid and neural tube defects: