Neural Tube Defects May Be Detected By This Test

A recent study has found that blood tests during pregnancy may discover neural tube defects in babies.

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You've probably heard that it's important to get folic acid during pregnancy because it's thought to help prevent neural tube defects. A recent study has found that there may be a way to predict those defects with a simple blood test.

Folic acid and pregnancy

Folic acid is thought to have a big part in helping prevent neural tube defects, but it's unknown exactly how much is needed to prevent them. Currently, it is recommended that pregnant women consume at least 400 micrograms per day of the B vitamin, which is a usual component of prenatal vitamins. The kicker is, a woman has to have the folic acid in her diet before she even knows she is pregnant, which has led to many countries fortifying some of our grain-based products to improve birth outcomes.

Researchers analyzed data from two studies from China. In total, data on more than 220,000 births was assessed, out of which 250 babies were born with neural tube defects. They studied blood collected from the moms on the 28th day of pregnancy to see what the correlation was between blood folate levels and the risk of neural tube defects.

They found that the lower the levels, the higher the risk, and vice versa.

The original article I read indicated that such a blood test could help prevent neural tube defects, which I'm not sure is true — unless these results help identify the amount of folate moms-to-be need to consume to keep their risks as low as possible. It can also be used to monitor the success of programs aimed to reduce these types of preventable birth defects.

Folic acid is found naturally in many foods and it is also added as a supplement to others. Natural sources are green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits (think orange juice), beans and some whole grains. It is also commonly added to "enriched" grain products such as cereal, pasta, white rice, bread and flour.

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