Reduce Serious Birth Defects

Folic acid can prevent birth defects like spina bifida

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Adding folic acid to tortillas and other products can reduce the risk for birth defects, says a new petition recently filed with a federal agency. 

A petition filed with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) argues that fortifying corn masa flour products with the B vitamin folic acid can help reduce serious birth defects of the brain and spine.

The groups behind the petition believe that mandating folic acid fortification of the products will especially help prevent birth defects in one high-risk group: Hispanic babies.

Since 1998, when the FDA started regulating folic acid in cereal grains, the rate of NTDs has decreased by a third.

"Trying to get pregnant?  Discuss folic acid supplements with your doctor."

Corn masa flours is made from treated corn and is used to make products common in Hispanic and Latino diets, such as corn tortillas, taco shells, chips and tamales.

A coaltion of six groups – Gruma Corporation, Spina Bifida Association, March of Dimes Foundation, American Academy of Pediatrics, Royal DSM N.V., and National Council of La Raza – say that Hispanic women are 20 percent more likely to have a baby with a neural tube defect, which includes spina bifida and anencephaly (the absence of a large part of the brain and skull).

This may be due to Hispanic women’s lower intake of folic acid, compared to white women.

The federal government already mandates folic-acid fortification of enriched cereal grains, including pasta and bread. But corn masa flour does not have a mandate.

Earlier studies have shown that women who take folic acid before conception and during early pregnancy can reduce their baby’s risk of a neural tube defect.

The petition is being reviewed by the FDA.

"Folic acid is the only vitamin women can take to help prevent serious birth defects of the brain and spine, and it’s most important that they start taking it before they get pregnant and continue to take it after,” said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes.

The March of Dimes recommends that women looking to become pregnant take a daily multivitamin that contains at least 400 micrograms of folic acid.

“If fortification of corn masa can be achieved, lives will be saved and families spared a lifetime of [health and social complications]…” says Cindy Brownstein, President and CEO of Spina Bifida Association.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 27, 2012
Last Updated:
May 11, 2012