National Folic Acid Awareness Week Aims to Increase Knowledge About Preventing Birth Defects

Sunday, January 01, 2006 | 6:00pm

Daily Multivitamins, Diet are a Good Source of Vitamin

Nashville, January 2, 2006

The Tennessee Department of Health, in partnership with the Tennessee Folic Acid Council, is joining the National Council on Folic Acid (NCFA) to observe National Folic Acid Awareness Week, January 9-15, in hopes of increasing knowledge of the importance of folic acid consumption.

“Folic acid is a key component in protecting the health of Tennessee’s women and children,” said Department of Health Commissioner Kenneth S. Robinson, M.D. “Healthy eating, coupled with a daily multivitamin, can decrease the chance of birth defects in infants.”

Women of childbearing age in particular should take folic acid to help prevent birth defects, especially neural tube defects (NTD), serious birth defects of the brain and spine that occur when the neural tube, which later develops into the central nervous system, fails to close. Spina bifida, the leading cause of childhood paralysis, and anencephaly, the absence of a part of the brain or skull, are the most common forms of NTDs, affecting over 100 babies born to Tennessee residents from 2000 to 2002. These and other NTDs can lead to miscarriages, stillbirths and infant death. Research has shown that if women consume adequate amounts of folic acid on a regular basis, up to 70 percent of NTDs can be prevented.

Folic acid is a B-vitamin necessary for proper cell growth that is found in fortified breakfast cereals, many fortified with the 100 percent recommended daily dosage; enriched breads, pastas, and grains; dried beans and peas; orange juice, oranges, cantaloupe, avocados, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, lima beans, nuts and peanut butter. Although folic acid is found in many foods, it is difficult to get enough of the vitamin from food alone. The body absorbs folic acid in multivitamins more efficiently than by digesting the naturally occurring vitamin in food. The U.S. Public Health Service recommends that all women of childbearing age consume 400 micrograms of folic acid by taking a multivitamin daily and eating fortified grains, as well as including variety of foods as part of a healthy diet.

Folic acid is required for early fetal development. To prevent NTDs, it is important for a woman to have enough folic acid in her body both before and during pregnancy. NTDs occur during the first month of pregnancy, before most women know they are pregnant. Since half of all pregnancies are unplanned, it is important for all women of childbearing age to make taking folic acid part of their daily routine.

According to NCFA, new research shows that folic acid may help prevent other birth defects, such as cleft lip, cleft palate and heart defects. It may also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease and colon, cervical and breast cancer.

The Tennessee Folic Acid Council, a collaboration of the Tennessee Chapter of the March of Dimes and the Tennessee Department of Health, is committed to promoting the consumption of folic acid for the prevention of birth defects. The council, through a variety of activities, provides education and advocacy regarding the benefits of folic acid to the general public, health care providers and local policymakers to reduce the incidence of preventable neural tube defects. For more information about folic acid and National Folic Acid Awareness Week, visit the Tennessee Folic Acid Council’s Web site at www.folicacidtn.com or the National Council on Folic Acid at www.folicacidinfo.org.

Health