Skip to content

Health & Pregnancy

Folic Acid May Fight Down Syndrome

Study Links Down Syndrome to Neural Tube Defects
Font Size
A
A
A

WebMD Health News

April 17, 2003 -- Taking folic acid supplements before and during early pregnancy may not only help prevent neural tube defects in babies, but it may also reduce the risk of Down syndrome. A new study suggests there might be a link between the Down syndrome and neural tube defects, and folic acid supplements may be an effective way to prevent both.

Neural tube defects are caused by the abnormal development of the brain and spinal cord during early pregnancy. The most severe neural tube defects can cause devastating mental and physical impairment. Numerous studies have shown that taking folic acid supplements before and during pregnancy can significantly reduce the risk of neural tube defects.

Down syndrome is one of the most common birth defects, and children born with the condition usually have some degree of mental retardation as well as distinctive physical features. Although the risks of developing Down syndrome are not well understood, the mother's age and family history are known to increase the risk.

Researchers say previous studies have shown that mothers of children with Down syndrome and neural tube defects tend to share problems in processing folic acid, which prompted them to see if both defects occurred more often in the same family than in others.

The study, which appears in the April 19 issue of The Lancet, compared the number of children born with either defect among pregnancies at risk for neural tube defects or Down syndrome due to a family history of the defects.

They found that more than five times the number of pregnancies (11) were affected by Down syndrome among the 1,492 pregnancies in Israeli families at risk for neural tube defects compared with other women of the same age. A similar increase in the number of neural tube defects were found among Ukrainian families at risk for Down syndrome, with seven times the expected incidence of the defect among the 1,847 pregnancies studied.

Researchers say this study provides the first proof that Down syndrome and neural tube defects may share some similarities in how they develop and who's at risk.

Pregnancy Week-By-Week Newsletter

Delivered right to your inbox, get pictures and facts on
what to expect each week of your pregnancy.

Today on WebMD

hand circling date on calendar
Track your most fertile days.
woman looking at ultrasound
Week-by-week pregnancy guide.
 
Pretty pregnant woman timing contaction pains
The signs to watch out for.
pregnant woman in hospital
Are there ways to do it naturally?
 
slideshow fetal development
Slideshow
pregnancy first trimester warning signs
Article
 
What Causes Bipolar
Video
Woman trying on dress in store
Slideshow
 
pregnant woman
Article
Close up on eyes of baby breastfeeding
Video
 
healthtool pregnancy calendar
Tool
eddleman prepare your body pregnancy
Video