Considering the relatively small population of Northern Ireland (about 1.5 million people), this is one of the highest rates of spina bifida in the world. The condition is caused in the womb when the spinal column of the fetus does not close up normally. It is considered a birth defect affecting both the spine and brain, and babies that are born with this often end up with serious physical impairments for the rest of their life.
The cause is unknown, but taking folic acid before and during pregnancy (Folic Acid is one of the B-Vitamins), is known to help prevent the condition. A daily dose of 4 mg is recommended, and it should be taken by all women of child bearing age, even if no pregnancy is planned. The reason for this is that 50% or more of pregnancies are unplanned and it is vital that folic acid levels be adequate before pregnancy occurs.
The Obstetrician, Professor Jim Dornan who chairs Life & Health Sciences at Ulster University told the Belfast Telegraph,
All woman who could be in a position of getting pregnant should be taking folic acid as a normal diet just doesn’t do it. If a woman takes extra folic acid from pre-conception onwards she can reduce the incidences of Spina Bifida by two thirds.
Folic acid (which is sometimes also referred to as Vitamin B-9) is responsible for ensuring many of human physiological functions are carried out. Deficiencies can cause serious problems not only in pregnant women, but in everyone. Deficiencies are linked to nerve damage, depression and other mental illnesses, and weakness in breath. As well, low levels of this vitamin prevents other nutrients from being absorbed into the body from the digestive system.
Many people have high levels of homocysteine. Having high levels has been linked to both kidney and heart disease, and folic acid can help to control and lower homocysteine.
Folic Acid Important Not Just In Northern Ireland
While Northern Ireland may have one of the highest rates of spina bifida, folic acid supplementation is recommended in Canada and the USA, as well. Although many foods are fortified with it, it may not be enough especially if you are not eating those fortified foods. In the USA, it’s estimated that about 8 babies per day are born with spina bifida and many of these cases could have been prevented with folic acid supplementation.
In older people throughout the world, there is solid research that shows that folic acid supplementation can slow down or prevent vision loss and may protect the eyes from degeneration.
While folate occurs naturally in foods, it is not as easily absorbed by the body as the folic acid formulation available as a supplement.
Folic acid is quite inexpensive and costs only pennies a day when taken regularly. A good quality supplement is available from the NOW Brand and you can order directly from here (Amazon).
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