Mothers-to-be urged to take folic acid as defects rise
EXPECTANT Irish mothers are being urged to take folic acid after a worrying rise in congenital disorders linked to a deficiency of the diet supplement.
A new study has found there has been a rise in neural tube defects – mainly spina bifida and anencephaly, a condition where the foetus is missing parts of the brain and skull – in Ireland since the recession hit in 2009.
Leading obstetrician Professor Michael Turner from the UCD centre for human reproduction has urged women to take the diet supplement before conception and during early pregnancy.
"There is at least one case a week," said the professor of obstetrics and gynaecology from the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital.
"The reason why it is so important is it is one of the few congenital malformations that is preventable. The burden of disease on the child and on the family are enormous particularly with spina bifida where the child can be born severely handicapped."
More than 50 countries including the United States have mandatory folic acid fortification in food like flour but the Irish government reversed a decision to introduce a similar system in 2008 because there were falling rates of neural tube defects in the early 2000s.
The new report revealed that neural tube defects in Ireland rose from 70 cases in 2009 to 87 in 2011.
The study from the UCD and the HSE Eurocat Registers concluded that the recession could be having an impact on Irish women getting folic acid naturally in food like fruit and vegetables, especially in lower socio-economic areas.
"The big concern I have as an obstetrician is that, with all the austerity, women who are socially disadvantaged have cut back on food that is nutritious and are going for cheap, high calorie food and they may have cut back on taking their vitamin supplements as well," said Prof Turner, one of the co-authors of the study.
He said: "We are calling for a review of food fortification policies and a renewed public health campaign to promote preconceptual folic acid."
The newly published study in the Journal of Public Health revealed that there were 236 neural tube defects linked to deficient maternal folic acid between 2009 and 2011. Prof Turner said women needed to realise it is vital to take folic acid to prevent the birth defects before and during early pregnancy.