Pregnant women who do not have enough folic acid — a B vitamin — in their bodies can pass the deficiency on to their unborn children. It may lead to retarded growth and congenital malformation, according to Dr. A. Leonard Luhby…. “Folic acid deficiency in pregnant women could well constitute a public health problem of dimensions we have not originally recognized,” he says. — Science News. December 9, 1967
Folic acid — or folate — can prevent brain and spinal cord defects in developing fetuses. Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required that all enriched grain products contain the vitamin starting in 1998, birth defects have been prevented in about 1,300 babies each year. But some women still don’t get enough folate, while others may be overdoing it. About 10 percent of women may ingest more than the upper limit of 1,000 micrograms daily — about 2.5 times the recommended amount, a 2011 study found. Too much folate may increase a woman’s risk for certain cancers and interfere with some epilepsy drugs.
This graph shows trends in in number of babies born with neural tube defects — including spina bifida and anencephaly — from 1995 to 2011. The number of cases has decreased following knowledge of the role of folate in birth defects and the FDA’s requirement to put folic acid into enriched grain products.
Prevalence of brain and spinal cord birth defects before and after U.S. folic acid mandate, 1995-2011