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Low levels of vitamin B12 may increase risk for neural tube defects
Date:3/1/2009

Children born to women who have low blood levels of vitamin B12 shortly before and after conception may have an increased risk of a neural tube defect, according to an analysis by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, Trinity College Dublin, and the Health Research Board of Ireland.

Women with the lowest B12 levels had 5 times the risk of having a child with a neural tube defect compared to women with the highest B12 levels.

Women who consume little or no meat or animal based foods are the most likely group of women to have low B12 levels, along with women who have intestinal disorders that prevent them from absorbing sufficient amounts of B12.

Neural tube defects are a class of birth defects affecting the brain and spinal cord. One type, spina bifida, can cause partial paralysis. Another type, anencephaly, is a fatal defect in which the brain and skull are severely underdeveloped.

Researchers have known that taking another nutrient, folic acid, during the weeks before and after conception can greatly reduce a woman's chances of having a child with a neural tube defect. Folic acid is the synthetic form of the vitamin folate. In the United States, cereal grains are fortified with folic acid to reduce the occurrence of neural tube defects in the U.S. population.

The study appears in the March Pediatrics. The study's first author was Anne M. Molloy, Ph.D., Trinity College Dublin. Scientists from the Health Research Board of Ireland and two NIH institutes, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Human Genome Research Institute, also took part in the study.

"Vitamin B12 is essential for the functioning of the nervous system and for the production of red blood cells," said Duane Alexander, M.D., director of the NICHD. "The results of this study suggest that women with low levels of B12 not only may risk health problems of their
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Contact: Robert Bock or Marianne Glass Miller
bockr@mail.nih.gov
301-496-5133
NIH/National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
Source:Eurekalert

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