A new animal study says that high levels of the B-vitamin folate could prevent heart birth defects induced by alcohol exposure in early pregnancy, a condition known as foetal alcohol syndrome.
Researchers at the University of South Florida College of Medicine and All Children's Hospital report that the protection was afforded only when folate was administered very early in pregnancy and before the alcohol exposure.
The dose that best protected against heart defects in mice was considerably higher than the current dietary recommendation of 400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) daily for women of child-bearing age.hile more research is needed, the study has implications for re-evaluating folate supplementation levels during early pregnancy, said principal investigator Dr. Kersti Linask.
"Congenital heart defects can occur in the developing embryo at a time when women typically do not even know they are pregnant - 16 to 18 days following conception. They may have been drinking alcohol or using prescription drugs without realizing this could be affecting embryonic development," said Linask.
"We found that we could prevent alcohol-associated defects from arising in the mice-provided folate was given in relatively high concentrations very early in pregnancy around conception," he added.
In the USF study, two randomly assigned groups of pregnant mice were fed diets supplemented by folate in adjusted doses known from epidemiological studies to rescue human embryos from craniofacial birth defects.
The researchers suggest that folate fortification may be most effective at preventing heart birth defects when administered at significantly higher levels than the doses currently recommended to prevent pregnancy complications-both in normal women (0.4 milligrams recommended daily) and even in women who have delivered an infant with a spinal birth defect (4 milligrams daily).
Although higher folate levels did not cause adverse side effects in the pregnant mice, the safety and effectiveness of higher doses must be proven with human trials, said Linask.
The findings were published online earlier this month in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.