Mums-to-be in Ireland are being encouraged to take folic acid as congenital defects linked to a deficiency of the supplement increase.
Since 1999, a rise in neural tube defects in Ireland, mainly spina bifida and anencephaly, a condition where the foetus is missing parts of the brain and skull, has been recorded in Ireland, leading to calls for expectant mums to take a daily supplement of folic acid before conception and during pregnancy.
The new report revealed that neural tube defects in Ireland rose from 70 cases in 2009 to 87 in 2011.
Quoted in the Irish Independent, leading obstetrician Professor Michael Turner from the UCD centre for human reproduction said:
“There is at least one case a week. The reason why it is so important is it is one of the few congenital malformations that is preventable. The burden of disease on the child and on the family are enormous, particularly with spina bifida where the child can be born severely handicapped.”
The study from the UCD and HSE Eurocat Registers published in the Journal of Public Health links the recession to falling levels of natural folic acid levels as women replace fresh fruit and vegetables with cheap, high calorie foods.
Mandatory folic acid fortification of food exists in over 50 countries, however the Irish government have failed to introduce similar measures here.
Professor Turner continued: “We are calling for a review of food fortification policies and a renewed public health campaign to promote preconceptual folic acid.”