Folic Acid Prevents Serious Birth Defects

January 22, 2015
Meghan Ross, Associate Editor

Mandated folic acid fortification has dramatically reduced the number of babies born with serious birth defects each year.

Mandated folic acid fortification has dramatically reduced the number of babies born with serious birth defects each year, according to research published in the January 16, 2015, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The number of babies born with neural tube defects (NTDs) such as anencephaly and spina bifida has decreased by 35% since 1998, the first year that the United States started mandating the fortification of enriched grain products with 140 micrograms of folic acid per 100 grams. As a result of the mandate, folic acid fortification has averted approximately 1300 NTD-affected births annually, according to the CDC.

The CDC analyzed data from 19 population-based birth defects surveillance programs in United States between 1999 and 2011.

While Caucasian, African-American, and Hispanic women all saw a drop in the number of NTDs among their offspring, the CDC discovered that the prevalence of the birth defects was greatest among Hispanics compared with the other racial groups. The study authors suggested that more awareness on the benefits of folic acid is needed in the Hispanic population, as they conjectured that Hispanic women might be consuming less folic acid, or there could be genetic factors that affect their metabolism of it.

The CDC report also hypothesized that fortifying corn masa flour with folic acid would prevent an additional 40 cases of NTDs annually.

Beyond fortified foods, folic acid intake can be increased by taking a daily multivitamin containing folate or consuming more leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, and beans.