Neural tube defects are the most common birth defects that affect 300,000 births globally, each year. It is one of the most common severely disabling birth defects.
One of the ways to reduce this from happening is getting enough folate (a form of vitamin B). Or another method is folic acid, which is synthetically produced and is used in fortified foods and supplements.
Taking synthetically-produced folic acid before and during the early stages of pregnancy is known to cut the chances of neural tube birth defects.
Currently, it is recommended that pregnant women should take 400ig (micrograms) of folic acid a day, but the exact amount of folic acid needed to prevent neural tube defects is not known.
A simple blood test could help prevent neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida, new research finds.
Researchers worked on data from two population-based studies in China that consisted of 220,000 births and 250 babies with neural tube defects.
The researchers estimated the link between red blood cell folate concentration on the 28th day of pregnancy and the risk for neural tube defects. They found lower red blood cell folate concentrations were associated with the highest risk for a neural tube defect, or 25.4 per 10,000 births.
To estimate the link between red blood cell folate concentration at the time of completion of neural tube closure and neural tube defect risk, the researchers used mathematical models.
The estimated risk dropped at red blood cell folate concentrations above 1,000 nmol/L. If the red blood cell folate concentration was 1,180 nmol/L, the risk of neural tube defect was 6 per 10,000 births.
“Our results indicate that a red blood cell folate concentration of roughly 1,000 to 1,300 nmol/L might achieve optimal prevention of folate sensitive neural tube defects, with a resulting overall risk of neural tube defect of about 6 per 10,000,” said the authors.
The study was published on July 29 in The BMJ online revealed.
Researchers say future research should determine how much naturally occurring folate from food or folic acid in supplement form is needed to achieve this ideal range of red blood cell folate concentrations.