By Mary Elizabeth Dallas
TUESDAY, Jan. 10, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- In a recommendation that reaffirms previous guidelines, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said that folic acid supplements reduce the risk of neural tube defects.
As it advised in 2009, the independent panel of experts said women who are pregnant or able to get pregnant should take a daily supplement that contains between 400 and 800 micrograms of folic acid to prevent these potentially fatal birth defects.
Neural tube defects occur when the brain or spinal cord do not develop properly, leading to serious disabilities or even death. These birth defects take place very early in pregnancy. Sometimes they occur even before a woman knows that she is expecting, the task force explained.
Folic acid supplements are most beneficial if women take them one month before becoming pregnant and continue taking them for the first three months of pregnancy, the panel concluded.
Folic acid is a naturally occurring B vitamin found in many fruits and vegetables, such as leafy greens, broccoli and orange juice. In the United States, many foods are also fortified with folic acid.
Still, many women don't get the recommended amount of folic acid through their diet, according to the recommendations published online Jan. 10 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
"The task force found convincing evidence that the risk of neural tube defects can be reduced when women take a daily folic acid supplement of 400 to 800 micrograms," said task force member Dr. Alex Kemper.
"These supplements can be taken as a daily multivitamin, prenatal vitamin or single tablet that has the recommended amount of folic acid," Kemper said in a task force news release. He is a professor of pediatrics at Duke University Medical School, in Durham, N.C.