Pregnancy Vitamins Cut Leukemia in Kids

From the WebMD Archives

Dec. 6, 2001 -- If you're thinking of having a baby, you've likely heard about how important it is for you to take folic acid supplements everyday. It's already known that folic acid helps prevent certain birth defects, and now a new study shows it might also help reduce the chance of your child developing leukemia down the road.

Researchers from the Cancer Foundation of Western Australia looked at 83 children with leukemia and 166 children without cancer. The kids with cancer had ALL -- acute lymphoblastic leukemia -- the most common type of leukemia in children.

What they found surprised them. Both folic acid and iron supplements taken during pregnancy were protective against a child developing leukemia.

Moms who used both folic acid and iron supplements in pregnancy were 60% less likely to have a child develop leukemia. Iron supplements alone did not offer protection, the researchers write. There was only one woman who took folic acid without iron, so the researchers cannot say what protection folic acid alone provides.

"Our results, though unexpected, suggest that folic acid supplementation in pregnancy reduces the risk of common [leukemia] in the child," write study leader Judith R. Thompson and colleagues.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) says that the vitamin folic acid, if taken before pregnancy and during the first three months of pregnancy, can reduce the risk of birth defects of the baby's brain -- called anencephaly, or the spine -- called spina bifida. They recommend that most women take 0.4 milligrams (400 micrograms) of folic acid a day.

Women who have previously had a baby with such a birth defect should take much more: 4 milligrams daily for one month before conception and during the first three months of pregnancy.

Certain foods, such as bread and cereal, are now supplemented with folic acid, and the vitamin can be found in leafy dark-green vegetables, citrus fruits, and beans. Because it may be hard to eat enough of these foods to meet daily requirements, however, ACOG recommends that you also take a daily vitamin with folic acid.