Why folic acid may be doubly important for pregnant mums
9 June 2003
It was Action Research that funded the research that discovered the link between folic acid and the prevention of spina bifida in the 1960s. Now researchers funded by the leading medical charity are investigating the role of folic acid in families where there is a risk of having a child born with cleft lip and palate.
Action Researchers have found evidence suggesting that folic acid supplements could lower the risk of babies developing cleft lip and palate in women who are more susceptible because of genetic factors.
Cleft lip and palate is one of the most common birth malformations. It affects at least one in every 1000 babies born in the UK and correcting the condition involves the child having to undergo a number of operations, speech therapy and treatment to straighten the teeth.
There is a strong genetic link, and babies are 30-40 times more likely to develop cleft lip and palate if their elder brother or sister was also born with the condition.
The research team have identified a particular group of mothers that may be susceptible to having a child with a cleft. These mothers have a change in a gene Methylenetetrahydofolate Reductase (MTHFR), that is crucial in regulating the body’s supply of folic acid.
Folic acid is important in fetal growth because it helps regulate cell growth and the production of DNA.
Simon Moore, Chief Executive of Action Research said: “The benefits of taking folic acid in pregnancy to prevent spina bifida are well known, thanks to previous work by Action Research. This exciting new project suggests that folic acid may have a crucial role in helping to prevent cleft lip and palate in some families”
Heading the research team, Professor Winter of the Institute of Child Health said: “Our research has shown that there may be a susceptible group of women where taking additional folic acid early in pregnancy may lower the risk of having a child with cleft lip and palate. Further studies are needed to confirm our findings, but our results are very encouraging”.
Cleft lip and palate normally occurs at around six to eight weeks of pregnancy and is a result of the failure of the bones in the face and roof of the mouth to close properly. Other studies seem to suggest that folic acid has a direct effect on the development of the face and so it may be beneficial for mothers to take extra folic acid in pregnancy.
*The research team looked at 98 families where either the children or the parents and the children all had cleft lip. Using data from the Human Genome Project the team performed a whole genome screen to find likely genes.
*As well as these genetic factors, environmental elements such as anti-epilepsy drugs, alcohol and smoking are also thought to increase the risk of a child developing CL/P.
Fact-file: **Women hoping to become pregnant should take 400micrograms supplement of folic acid every day immediately after stopping contraception and for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. *They are also advised to eat a diet rich in foods which naturally contain folic acid such as leafy green vegetables, as well as foods which have been fortified with folic acid such as breads and breakfast cereals.
For more information or to interview Simon Moore please telephone Louise Brown, Press Officer, 01403 327403 (direct line), Vincent House, North Parade, Horsham, West Sussex RH12 2DP or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Andy Proctor, Head of Communications 01403 327423 (direct line) or email email@example.com
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