By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
After analyzing data from nearly 6 million Canadian births in 1990-2011, researchers found that folic acid food fortification was associated with an 11 percent reduction in rates of congenital heart defects.
Folic acid is a B vitamin required in human diets for numerous biological functions.
Controlling for influences such as maternal age, multiple births (twins, triplets), pregnancy complications, prenatal diagnosis and pregnancy terminations, the researchers also found that the beneficial effects of folic acid were evident in some subtypes of congenital heart defects such as a:
- 27 percent reduction in conotruncal defects (severe heart outflow tract abnormalities)
- 23 percent reduction in coarctation of the aorta (a narrowing of the major artery that carries blood to the body)
- 15 percent reduction in atrial and ventricular septal defects (holes in the wall separating heart chambers)
However, chromosomally associated defects (abnormality in the number of an infant’s chromosomes) weren’t affected.
In 1998, Canada mandated adding folic acid to all types of flour, enriched pasta and cornmeal to primarily help prevent neural tube defects.
The study’s findings are applicable to the U.S. population because food fortification with folic acid was implemented in America at about the same time and levels after the North American Fair Trade Agreement of 1994, said K.S. Joseph, M.D., Ph.D., the study’s senior author and professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.
Folic acid is especially important for rapid cell division and growth; for instance, when blood is being formed and in pregnancy when the fetus is growing rapidly.
Folate deficiency can result in several different complications — including neural tube defects such as spina bifida, an abnormality of the spine and spinal cord, and anemia (in which the number and function of red blood cells is affected leading to an inability of the blood to carry sufficient oxygen).
Women should start taking folic acid supplements before getting pregnant because they may not necessarily receive adequate folate from diet alone, Joseph said.
About 650,000 to 1.3 million children and adults are living with congenital heart disease in the United States. Ventricular septal defects are the most common type of defect in children, accounting for nearly 620,000 of the cases.
The study is published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.