Birth defect risk: beyond folic acid

Women are frequently reminded that folic acid helps decrease the risk of birth defects. While this is proven true in many studies, researchers at the University Medical Center in the Netherlands did two studies that showed other nutrients may also play a role in prevention.

In the first study, researchers investigated the nutritional intakes of 106 case mothers (who bore a child with spina bifida) and 181 control mothers. While basic nutrition was comparable to the average Dutch diet, the women’s fat, cholesterol, iron and folic acid intakes were below recommended daily allowances. In addition, case mothers showed significantly lower intakes of plant proteins, fibre, magnesium and niacin, and higher intakes of simple sugars. From this, researchers concluded that low pre-conception intakes of plant proteins, iron, magnesium and niacin are associated with a 2- to 5-fold increased risk of spina bifida.

In their second related study, B-vitamins in addition to folic acid were shown to help prevent cleft palate. Researchers reviewed pre-conception intake of several B-vitamins in 182 case mothers (who bore a child with cleft palate) and 173 control mothers. They found that the case mothers had a lower intake of B-vitamins, particularly thiamine (B-1), niacin (B-3) and pyridoxine (B-6).

Look for a multivitamin or B-complex supplement that contains 25–100 mg of each of these B-vitamins.

Sources: Nutr. 2004 Jun;134(6):1516-22; Eur J Nutr. 2004 Feb;43(1):7-14