Study shows folic acid helps prevent facial clefts

by Jeff Gelski
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LONDON — Taking folic acid supplements during early pregnancy seems to reduce the risk of isolated cleft lip, with or without cleft palate, in infants by about a third, according to study results published on-line Friday by the British Medical Journal.

Other vitamins and dietary factors may provide additional benefit, according to the study. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandates folic acid fortification in enriched bread.

The national population based case-control study involved infants born in Norway from 1996-2001. There were 377 infants with cleft lip with or without cleft palate, 196 infants with cleft palate alone and 763 controls. The National Institutes of Health defines cleft palate as an opening in the roof of the mouth and estimates more than 130,000 individuals in the United States have this syndrome.

In the study, folic acid supplementation during early pregnancy was associated with a reduced risk of isolated cleft lip with or without cleft palate after adjustment for multivitamins, smoking and other potential confounding factors. Independent of supplements, diets rich in fruits, vegetables and other high-folate-containing foods reduced the risk somewhat. The lowest risk of cleft lip was among women with folate-rich diets who also took folic acid supplements and multivitamins.

The study involved researchers from the University of Bergen in Norway, the University of Oslo in Norway and the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Durham, N.C.

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