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Health & Pregnancy

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Low Folic Acid Linked to Miscarriage

Low Folic Acid Linked to Miscarriage
WebMD Health News

Oct. 15, 2002 -- Taking folic acid before becoming pregnant is one of the best ways to prevent certain birth defects, and now research suggests it may also lower the risk of early miscarriage.

The new findings refute a handful of earlier studies linking high folic acid consumption to an increase in miscarriages. In the latest study, women with inadequate folate levels were 50% more likely to have early pregnancy losses, but those with high folate levels did not have a greater miscarriage risk.

The study, published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, was conducted by researchers from Sweden's Karolinka Institute in conjunction with the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Services (NICHD).

"This is very encouraging data that suggest we may be reducing the risk of spontaneous abortions in the U.S. by fortifying certain foods," study researcher James L. Mills, MD, an NICHD epidemiologist, tells WebMD.

Folic acid, also known as folate, is a vitamin necessary for proper cell growth and embryo development. Women who get at least 400 micrograms of the vitamin from their diets during the first few weeks of pregnancy can reduce their unborn baby's risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) by as much as 70%. These birth defects include the paralyzing spinal disease spina bifida, and anencephaly, a fatal disease in which the brain does not develop.

Folate deficiency also has been associated with placental separation during pregnancy, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and low blood supply to the placenta. These effects may in part be responsible for the increased risk of miscarriage.

In 1998, the FDA began requiring food manufacturers to fortify certain grain products with folic acid. Many breakfast cereals, rice, pasta, and most breads are now an excellent source of the vitamin, as are beans, leafy green vegetables, and citrus fruits.

Since the FDA move, the number of children born with spina bifida in the United States has decreased by one-third, the CDC announced last month. But Katherine Lyon-Daniel of the CDC's folic acid education campaign tells WebMD that it is still difficult for a woman to know if she is getting enough folic acid through diet alone.

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