The importance of folic acid for pregnant mothers and their unborn children has gained more support. A new study suggests that the introduction of food that had been fortified by folic acid in Canada was linked to the decrease of babies being born with heart defects.
The study, which was published in the journal Circulation, showed the association between consuming folic acid fortified food and a reduction in the rate of heart defects. Folic acid is a Vitamin B that is used by the human body to perform various biological functions. Due to folic acid being water-soluble, the amount that is not utilized by the body leaves through urine. That is why it important that people have a steady supply of this vitamin through their diet.
Data from approximately 6 million births in Canada was reviewed by the researchers of the current study. All of the births had taken place during 1990-2011. Fortification of food with folic acid was made mandatory in Canada back in 1998 for all kinds of enriched pasta, cornmeal and all types of flour.
The results of the study showed an overall 11% decrease in the rate of congenital heart defects. However, all types of heart defects present at birth didn’t show a decrease due to consumption of folic acid fortified food. The most significant decline, between 15-27%, was seen in structural heart defects: the narrowing of the aorta (a major artery) carrying blood to the heart or a hole in the wall of the heart. No reduction in the risk of heart defects at birth, caused by an abnormality related to the number of chromosomes in an infant, was observed during the study.
According to the researchers of the study an estimated 650,000 to 1.3 million adults and children in the U.S. suffer from congenital heart disease. One of the most common types of heart defect in children is one of the heart’s ventricles having a hole in the wall. The researchers added that this type of septal defect makes up about 620,000 of medical cases.
The researchers went on to add that a pregnancy that is deficit in folic acid can give rise to a number of problems for an unborn child. Folic acid deficiency during pregnancy can give rise to anemia and neural tube defects that include spina bifida, which is an abnormality of the spinal cord and the spine.
The senior author of the study, Dr. K.S. Joseph, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, said that folic acid supplements should be taken by women who are likely to get pregnant. This is because they might not get the required amount of folic acid from their diet alone. Dr. Joseph also added that while the research was conducted on the Canadian population the results might apply to U.S. residents too as the U.S. also started fortifying their food items with folic acid at around the same as Canada.
While the current research did show a link between a decline in certain heart-related defects at birth and the consumption of folic acid fortified food, a cause-and-effect relationship wasn’t proved.
More research is required to see if the results from this study can be applied to the U.S. population and whether or not a cause-and-effect relationship can be established. In the meantime, pregnant women are advised to consume the recommended amount of folic acid to decrease risk of babies being born with heart defects.