Folic Acid is Not the Only Nutrient Needed to Prevent Birth Defects


Folic acid has once again been in the news as The Minister of Food Safety has recently decided to change the proposed mandatory fortification of bread with folic acid to a voluntary fortification of bread.

Many women quite rightly follow recommendations to take Folic Acid before pregnancy and during pregnancy to prevent the Neural Tube Defects (NTD) in babies.

Folic acid is a synthetic vitamin. The natural forms of folic acid are a group of nutrients called folates. An inadequate level of Folic Acid (or folates) is one of many aspects of the diet which increase risk of Neural Tube Defects, such as Spina Bifida.

Folic acid alone may not prevent Neural Tube Defects approximately 30% of NTD affected pregnancies are not related to a lack of folates or folic acid. Many other nutrients are important in pregnancy and prior to conception (by both men and women), not only in the prevention of NTD but also other health problems at birth.

Low levels of Zinc and Choline even with supplemental folic acid, and dietary folate, increase the risk of NTD.

Diets high in simple sugars which pose potential problems in glucose control are associated with NTD risk even among non-diabetic women. Obesity increases the risk of having a baby with NTD.

Both poverty and lack of knowledge of how to eat a nutritious diet have been shown to increase the chances of NTD. Food Insecurity irrespective of folic acid or folate intake results in a high risk of cleft palate, spina bifida, and anencephaly.

The whole diet, the nutrients it contains and the damage a poor diet can cause all need to be taken into consideration in preventing NTDs. Folic acid supplements although important can give a false sense of security, with a little knowledge and changes to the way you eat so much more can be done.


Original Article September 2012

Copyright Jaine Kirtley