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March of Dimes promotes B vitamin to curb birth defects

Most cereals, breads and pastas are fortified with folic acid

Sources of folic acid:
The National Academy of Sciences recommends that women of childbearing age get 400 micrograms of folic acid daily, either from food or vitamin supplements. Good natural sources of folic acid include orange juice, lentils, beans, spinach and broccoli. Most cereals, pastas and breads are now fortified with folic acid.

January 28, 1999
Web posted at: 8:57 a.m. EST (1357 GMT)

ATLANTA (CNN) -- The March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation is spending $10 million over the next three years to spread the word that a simple vitamin -- available without a prescription -- can greatly reduce the risk of some birth defects.

Jodi Adams is one of those who learned the hard way about the importance of folic acid, or folate, during pregnancy. Doctors said that because of an insufficient amount of this B vitamin during her first pregnancy, her son died of a neural tube defect before birth.

"Before I began being aware of the pregnancy and taking care of the pregnancy as I thought I should, the birth defect was already there," Adams said.

Experts estimate that about half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned. Yet, in order for folic acid to combat brain and spinal cord birth defects, a woman needs to have an adequate amount of the vitamin in her body -- from sources like orange juice -- at the time of conception.

After getting the facts about folic acid, Adams was prepared for her second pregnancy and delivered a healthy daughter, Kelsey.

Kelsey, left, and Jodi Adams
Adams now knows that folic acid is an important part of a woman's diet  

But many other women are unaware of the danger.

A recent survey by the March of Dimes -- a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing birth defects -- found that more than 70 percent of women who are not pregnant do not take folic acid supplements, although it's estimated that only one-third of women get enough folate through diet alone.

"We know that if women got adequate amounts of folic acid, it would reduce their risk of neural tube defects by at least half," said Dr. Donald Mattison of the March of Dimes. "That means there would be something on the order of a 1,000 fewer babies born each year in the United States with a neural tube defect."

Correspondent Linda Ciampa contributed to this report.

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