-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
TUESDAY, July 29, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A simple blood test
could help prevent neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida,
new research finds.
The test would measure the concentration of folate (a form of
vitamin B) in a pregnant women's red blood cells. The findings from
this study -- conducted by an international team of scientists --
could help doctors predict the risk of serious birth defects known
as neural tube defects because folate is vital to the proper
development of a growing fetus.
In addition to naturally occurring folate found in food, a
synthetic form of folate known as folic acid is also available in
fortified foods and supplements. Although taking folic acid
supplements during pregnancy is known to reduce the risk of neural
tube defects, it's unclear how much of this nutrient is needed to
prevent them. The current recommendation is that pregnant women
consume 400 micrograms of folic acid per day.
Previous research suggested that the risk for neural tube
defects increases as folate concentrations in a pregnant woman's
red bloods drop. To determine if there is an ideal red blood cell
folate concentration that could help predict neural tube defect
risk, the study's authors analyzed data from two population-based
studies from China. The studies involved more than 220,000 births.
Of these babies, 250 were born with neural tube defects.
The researchers estimated the link between red blood cell folate
concentration on the 28th day of pregnancy and the risk for neural
tube defects. They found lower red blood cell folate concentrations
were associated with the highest risk for a neural tube defect, or
25.4 per 10,000 births.
This risk was reduced however, when folate concentrations were
higher, the study published on July 29 in
The BMJonline revealed.
The study authors concluded their findings could help scientists
develop and monitor neural tube defect prevention programs for
women around the world.
In response to the findings, researchers from the Nuffield
Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford
commented in a journal news release that monitoring women's red
cell concentrations may help shape global policy decisions "and
allow public health leaders to monitor a population's response with
the ultimate goal of reducing the incidence of largely preventable
neural tube defects."
The next step, the study's authors pointed out, is to determine
how much naturally occurring folate from food or folic acid in
supplement form is needed to achieve this ideal range of red blood
cell folate concentrations.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health provides more information
neural tube defects.
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