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Pregnant Women Need More Folic Acid to Protect Their Babies

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pregnant women and their babies need more folic acid Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock

A coalition of organizations has petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to start fortifying corn masa flour with the B vitamin folic acid to help prevent or reduce serious birth defects of babies, particularly those born to Hispanic mothers.

Six organizations, Gruma Corporation, Spina Bifida Association, March of Dimes Foundation, American Academy of Pediatrics, Royal DSM N.V., and the National Council of La Raza, say that overall, Hispanic women have a folic acid deficiency that makes them about 20 percent more likely to have a child with a neural tube defect (NTD) than non-Hispanic white women.

It is not well understood why the vitamin deficiency exists within the Hispanic population.

An estimated 3,000 pregnancies each year in the United States are affected by NTDs, serious birth defects of the spine (spina bifida) and brain (anencephaly). As much as 70 percent of these could be prevented if women get adequate amounts of folic acid before and during pregnancy, according to March of Dimes.

“Folic acid fortification of foods has been a common sense public policy that has helped improve pediatric health and significantly reduce the number of neural tube defects, but there is more progress to be made in this area,” said American Academy of Pediatrics President Robert W. Block, MD, FAAP in a written statement.

“The AAP strongly encourages the FDA to allow the fortification of corn masa flour so that a greater population of pregnant women and their unborn children can benefit from this critical nutrient.”

While folic acid fortification of U.S. cereal grains resulted in a 26 percent reduction in NTDs, many women still do not receive adequate levels of folic acid from their diets, according to the March of Dimes.

A 2007 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition points out low folic acid levels have been particularly pronounced in the past decade, as many women of childbearing age follow low-carbohydrate weight loss diets, which limits many of the fortified foods.

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