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Hispanic women encouraged to take folic acid during pregnancy

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2,500 to 3,000 infants are born each year in the United States with spina bifida or anencephaly, which are neural tube defects caused by the incomplete closing of the spine and skull. An estimated 1,500 pregnancies are stillborn or terminated due to those defects.

About 80 percent of women are aware that folic acid is the key to preventing some of these birth defects that effect the brain and spine among all women.

But Hispanic women in the United States have one and a half to two times higher risk of developing babies with neural tube defects (NTDs) than other women, according to the National Council on Folic Acid.

Karen Walser, a certified nurse midwife at the Blackstone Valley Community Health Care said, "Hispanic women do have a slightly greater increase of 1.12 per 1000."

Caucasian women have a slightly lower risk of 0.96 per 1000 and Black women have an even lower risk 0.75 per 1000, Walser noted.

"We need to educate all women, especially Latinas, that folic acid can help prevent birth defects such as spins bifida, which is the most common, permanently disabling birth defect," said Adriane Griffen, chairwoman of the National Council on Folic Acid. According to the National Council on Folic Acid, the easiest way to decrease pregnancies affected by NTDs among the Latina community may be to increase folic acid consumption.

Hispanic women have the lowest reported folic acid consumption of any racial or ethnic group, and NTDs occur with the most frequency among Latina populations in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By consuming folic acid before and during pregnancy, the rate of NTDs can be lowered by up to 70 percent.

"The standard recommendation is 400 micrograms," said Dr. Rick Long, of the department of family medicine at Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island.

Long said some women who have had previous NTDs should take four milligrams of folic acid daily throughout pregnancy. But he recommended speaking with a physician before increasing the normal daily dose of 400 micrograms.

The U.S. Public Health Service recommends that all women of childbearing age take 400 micrograms of the B vitamin folic acid daily by taking a multivitamin and consuming fortified grains as a part of a healthy diet.

Some foods that contain folic acid include: spinach, lentils, black beans, citrus fruits, and orange juice. Most breads and some cereals and pastas also contain folic acid, Walser said.

The most important key to preventing NTDs is "to start before you’re pregnant," said Walser.

Birth defects of a baby’s brain or spine happen in the first few weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman knows that she is pregnant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"It’s more effective the earlier you take it," Walser said. She also noted that folic acid consumption isn’t just recommended for women who are thinking about getting pregnant or who are already pregnant.

"I strongly recommend any woman who is menstruating to take a multivitamin with folic acid," she said. "It’s not going to hurt you."

"As half of all pregnancies are unplanned, all women who have started their menstrual cycles should take folic acid, whether or not they are planning to become pregnant," according to Griffen.

"It’s good for everybody," Walser said.

For more information about folic acid, visit www.folicacidinfo.org.

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