Researchers are uncovering a possible connection between two of the most common birth defects. The study in the Journal Lancet indicates that families in which infants are born with neural tube defects like Spina Bifida could also be at increased risk of Down Syndrome, and vice versa.
After studying more than 1,000 families, researchers found that those with a high risk of neural tube defects had a five times higher risk of having a child with Down Syndrome, compared to families with no risk. More study is needed, but the good news in all of this is that scientists already know that folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects. So, researchers say if the connection between those defects and Down Syndrome is proven, then taking folic acid could play a role in reducing Down Syndrome as well.
Down Syndrome is one of the most common genetic birth defects, affecting approximately one in 800 to 1,000 babies. It generally is caused by an extra chromosome, the structures in cells that contain the genetic information (genes). That includes a combination of birth defects. Among them, some degree of mental retardation, characteristic facial features, and often, heart defects, increased infections, problems with vision and hearing, and other health problems.
Spina Bifida is the most common of a group of birth defects called neural tube defects (NTDS). The neural tube is the embryonic structure that develops into the brain and spinal cord. Often called open spine, Spina Bifida affects the backbone, and sometimes, the spinal cord. It is among the most common severe birth defects in the United States, affecting 1,500 to 2,000 babies (one in every 2,000 live births) each year.
Folic acid is a vitamin supplement in the Vitamin B family. The recommended amount is 400 mcg daily before and during pregnancy. Folic acid can be found in multivitamins as well as the following foods: green leafy vegetables, beans, orange juice, and broccoli.