The UK government today 20th September 2021 announced that folic acid will be added to flour to prevent a condition called Spina Bifida in unborn babies.
What is Spina Bifida?
Spina Bifida is a condition that arises during the development of babies while still in the mother's womb.
It is a defect of the nerve tissue that is meant to develop into the spinal cord and brain.
The extent of the defect can vary in severity from a small dimple in the back to the serious form where the spinal cord tissue develops outside the body-Usually along the spine on the back(also called myelomeningocele).
How may the baby be affected in Spina Bifida ?
The common presentations are stated below:
Paralysis of the legs
Problems with sensation eg not being able to feel in the legs.
Bladder and bowel dysfunction eg incontinence or severe constipation.
Developmental delay which can be both physical and mental.
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Why is Folic acid important ?
Folate or Folic acid is a B vitamin important in a number of health areas. For this particular topic Folic acid has been shown to be important in the development of the baby's spinal cord, brain and skull.Lack of or inadequate amounts of Folic acid can lead to abnormalities in the development of neural tube (the tissues that make up the spinal cord and brain in the embryo) eg Spina Bifida .
Folic acid supplementation has been shown in studies to reduce the incidence of Spina Bifida by up to 50% in the USA populations.
The other common abnormality that can be prevented by Folic Acid is Anencephaly.
Anencephaly is a serious condition in which the brain is severely malformed and or parts of the brain may be missing.
When should a woman take Folic Acid ?
It is recommended that the best or ideal time for a woman to take folic acid is at least a month before conceiving up to week 12 of the pregnancy.
Since most people cannot be sure when they will conceive the woman should start taking 400mcg of folic acid daily from the time she and her partner have decided they would like to start a family.
People with much higher risk of having a baby with neural tube abnormalities should take the higher dose of Folic Acid of 5mg daily; these are:
Women with diabetes
Previous baby with neural tube defects
Sickle cell disease
those taking some Epilepsy medication-Clarify with your doctor.
Natural sources of Folic Acid:
Green leafy vegetables eg Spinach and varieties eg Eboo,Nakati.
Don't ignore a simple supplement that could prevent serious conditions in your unborn baby.
British medical Journal