News

Maternal folic acid may decrease heart problems in children

December 3, 2009

Vitamin B9 (folic acid) supplements during pregnancy may not only reduce the risk of birth defects but also protect the children from congenital heart defects, a new study reports.

In the case-control study, data from over 3,000 mothers and infants were analyzed (1). Children of women who took at least 400 micrograms folic acid per day during pregnancy, defined as a daily single supplement or as a multivitamin containing folic acid, were about 20 percent less likely to develop congenital heart defects (CHDs), compared to children of women who did not take additional folic acid. In a subgroup analysis, additional folic acid was associated with a 38 percent reduction in isolated heart defects.

The results support the hypothesis that additional folic acid use during the period from before conception to early pregnancy (periconceptional) reduces CHD risk in infants, the researchers commented.

An overwhelming body of evidence links folate deficiency in early pregnancy to increased risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) in infants. This connection led to the 1998 introduction of public health measures in the US and Canada, where all grain products are fortified with folic acid – the synthetic, bioavailable form of folate.

Preliminary evidence indicates that the measure is having an effect with a reported 15 to 50 percent reduction in NTD incidence. A total of 51 countries now have some degree of mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid.

References

  1. van Beynum IM et al. Protective effect of periconceptional folic acid supplements on the risk of congenital heart defects: a registry-based case-control study in the northern Netherlands. European Heart Journal. 2009.