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Women Urged To Take Folic Acid As Spina Bifida Cases Increase

Posted Sep 02 2009 6:04pm

Following a sharp increase in the number of babies being diagnosed with spina bifda, women of child-bearing age are urged to take folic acid supplements - regardless of whether they are planning to start a family.

The Scottish Spina Bifida Association (SSBA) reported that 15 babies in Scotland were born with the condition this year - which is approximately a 100 per cent increase on the annual average.

Women are always advised to take folic acid supplements when they discover they are pregnant due to evidence suggesting it can help prevent the condition, however the SSBA have concerns over unplanned pregnancies, where it may be too late to make a difference.

The condition is a result of vertebrae in the backbone not developing properly, which in many cases can lead to paralysis from the waist down as well as additional nervous system damage.

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SSBA chairman Dr Margo Whiteford said to the BBC, “This year we’ve had as many contacts from families in the first half of the year as we’d expect to see for the full year.

“We don’t know if this is down to folic acid but we do know that most women don’t take enough folic acid at the right time.

“Ladies do know about folic acid preventing spina bifida but they wait until they’ve missed a period before they start taking it.

“The spinal cord develops within the first four weeks of pregnancy so by that stage it’s too late - if the baby’s going to have spina bifida it will already have developed it.”

Similar statistics for spina bifida cases in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are not yet available so it remains to be seen if the increased trend is mirrored in the rest of the UK.

The recommendation from the Foods Standards Agency at the moment for women is to take 400 micrograms of folic acid supplement for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

The FSA also suggests topping up on foods such as green vegetables, brown rice and breakfast cereals which are naturally rich in folic acid.

There is currently research being carried out in order to determine whether it may be appropriate to mandatorily add the vitamin to food in the UK in order to tackle the problem.

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