A new study finds that women who take folic acid supplements during their early pregnancy can substantially reduce the risk of cleft lip in their baby up to 40%. The Study results were published in the online issue of the British Medical Journal.
Folic acid, a synthetic compound of a B vitamin found in green leafy vegetables, has been recommended to prevent neural tube disorders such as spina bifida. But its impact on cleft clip has been less clear. Now, the scientists have studied the effect of taking folic acid supplements in Norway, which has the highest rate of facial clefts in Europe.
In this study, the scientists from the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) have examined the association between facial clefts and mothers' intake of folic acid supplements, multivitamins, and folates in diet.
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 study suggested that 0.4 milligrams (400 micrograms) of folic acid intake each day reduces one-third of the baby's risk of isolated cleft lip (with or without cleft palate). Folic acid can also be taken as a vitamin supplement, and it is added to flour and other fortified foods. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables without taking folic acid supplements can cut the risk of cleft lip by 25%.
"Folic acid deficiency causes facial clefts in laboratory animals, so we had a good reason to focus on folic acid in our clefts study. It was one of our main hypotheses." - said the researchers.
The United States started fortifying flour with folic acid several years ago after its role was established in reducing neural tube birth disorders. Other countries including Canada, Australia, Mexico and Chile have followed their example.