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Women need to take folic acid earlier says UU prof

A new study has shown that voluntary folic acid advice in Europe has not worked for the past 20 years

WOMEN are being encouraged to take folic acid when trying to conceive after a European study has found that taking it during pregnancy has not reduced the cases or spina bifida and other neural tube defects over this past 20 years.

Professor Helen Dolk, a leading Ulster University researcher, headed up the Eurocat European Surveillance of Congenital Anomalies) co-ordinating centre database that was used for the study. The database holds more than 11,000 cases of non-chromosomal neural tube defects from 28 registries covering approximately 12.5 million births in 19 European countries between 1991 and 2011.

The findings, published in last weeks British Medical Journal, show that total neural tube defects in Europe in 2011 was similar to that in 1991 with nine recorded cases per 10,000 births, with no decrease in incidents of spina bifida nor anencephaly over this time.

"Neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly bring serious consequences for newborns and their families. Women need to take folic acid before they become pregnant in order to prevent them. Waiting until a pregnancy is generally accepted as too late to commence supplementation," said Prof Dolk, who has called for a congenital anomaly registry to be urgently established in Northern Ireland.

"It is highly likely that these conclusions apply just as much to Northern Ireland. We urgently need to provide reliable figures that help track neural tube defect prevalence over time.

"Having such information at our fingertips would help us reinforce folic acid messages to women, and to contribute to the UK debate on whether mandatory food fortification is necessary as other countries, such as America, have successfully done so."

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