New evidence points to folic acid being able to prevent facial clefts; harelips or cleft lips, and cleft palates, according to a British study.
Pregnant women have been prescribed folic acid tablets for quite a long time now. This has been understood to reduce the risk of babies being born with neural defects, like spina bifida.
Yet now a study conducted by Allen Wilcox of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Durham, North Carolina, and published by the British Medical Journal, has come out with results that highlight another benefit of folic acid; prevention of cleft lips.
A cleft lip or palate occurs when the tissues that form the palate, or roof of the mouth, and the upper lip do not join correctly.
Boys are more affected than girls and the disorder is also more common in Asians.
Surgery is often carried out to repair the condition.
The researchers examined the effects of folic acid on facial clefts in Norway, which has one of the highest rates in Europe.
They studied babies born between 1996 and 2001, of whom 377 had a harelip, 196 had a cleft palate only and 763 were healthy controls.
The mothers were asked whether they took folic acid supplements early in their pregnancy and how much. After adjusting for smoking and other confounding factors, the researchers found that folic acid supplements reduced the risk of cleft lip by 40 percent, or by a third.
One in 1,000 babies born in the UK has the condition, but researchers found the lowest risk was among women who combined a folate-rich diet, multivitamins and daily folic acid supplement.
Folate-rich foods include green leafy vegetables and fruits.
Says Wilcox," If folic acid is able to prevent a major birth defect in addition to neural tube defects, this benefit should be included among the risk and benefits of fortifying food with folic acid."