09/03/04 — Vitamins are a means to prevent common birth defect

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Vitamins are a means to prevent common birth defect

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 3, 2004 2:23 PM

Wayne County has one of the highest rates of neural tube birth defects in the eastern part of the state. And in North Carolina, which has some of the highest numbers in the country, up to 70 percent can be avoided, says a representative from the March of Dimes.

One out of 200 babies born in Wayne County between 1995 and 2000 had neural defects, said Elizabeth Eslick, coordinator of the Eastern North Carolina Folic Acid Campaign. That compares with one in 1,000 births in Pitt County and one in 2,000 in Wilson County.

Ms. Eslick said there is a simple step that women of childbearing ages should be more aware of --taking folic acid.

"We're encouraging people in the health community to start talking about folic acid more," she said. "We're trying to get our part of the state up to the levels of the rest of the state and to get people to be more healthy."Folic acid is a vitamin supplement that, when taken one month before conception and throughout the first trimester, has been proven to reduce the risk for neural tubal defects by 50 to 70 percent, she said. It is necessary for proper cell growth and the development of the embryo.

The national average of women who take a multi-vitamin is only 27 percent, she said. That is why the campaign is so important in getting the word out.

She spoke Thursday to representatives of several health-care agencies who comprise WATCH's Teen Pregnancy Task Force. She said that neural tube defects, when the spinal column does not close properly during the pregnancy, results in such problems as spina bifida and larger disabilities.

The state recently received a $3 million grant to provide folic acid education for the next six years, she said. She added that an estimated $2 million to $4 million could be saved in Medicaid costs if these birth defects were reduced.

The synthetic form of folate is found naturally in leafy green vegetables and orange juice, or in a half cup of peanuts, she said. It takes about 12 cups of broccoli to meet the daily requirement, she said, and when cooked, even more of the potency is lost.

For that reason, the pill form of folic acid is recommended, she said. The ideal is for young women ages 14 and up to take 400 micrograms a day.

Ms. Eslick said there are many other benefits to taking the vitamin, even if a woman is past the childbearing years. Among those cited were reduction of heart disease, fewer heart attacks and strokes, fewer cases of breast, colon, and cervical cancer, and decreased risk of Alzheimer's disease.