May 13, 2009

Folic acid reduces premature birth risk

Pregnant women are advised to take folic acid to prevent birth defects, but U.S. researchers also say the supplement may help prevent premature birth.

The study, published in the journal PLoS Medicine, found women who took folic acid supplements for at least one year before they become pregnant may cut their risk of having a premature baby by half.

Lead author Dr. Radek Bukowski of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston said the study is an observational analysis based on the self-reporting of folate supplementation by 38,033 participants via a trial sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.

Through the NIH trials, we received highly accurate evidence of gestational age enabling us to determine that folate supplementation for at least one year is linked to a 70 percent decrease in very early preterm deliveries -- 20 to 28 weeks gestation -- and up to a 50 percent reduction in early preterm deliveries of 28 to 32 weeks, Bukowski said in a statement.

Dr. Alan R. Fleischman, medical director of the March of Dimes, said that folic acid supplementation begun before pregnancy and continuing into the first trimester helps prevent serious birth defects of the brain and spinal cord, such as spina bifida -- incomplete closure of the embryonic neural tube resulting in an incompletely formed spinal cord.