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Folic Acid May Help Prevent Premature Birth
Date:1/31/2008

Women took the B vitamin for one year before conception, study reports

THURSDAY, Jan. 31 (HealthDay News) -- Long known to help prevent birth defects, folic acid may also help prevent premature births, new research suggests.

In a large study that included almost 40,000 women, a team of U.S. and Irish researchers found that women who took folic acid supplements for a year or longer before conception had a 70 percent decreased risk of preterm birth between 20 and 28 weeks of gestation.

"There have been all sorts of protocols, lifestyle interventions and medications tested, and nothing has made a difference in preterm births, so this is a really exciting study," said Dr. Katharine Wenstrom, president of the Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

Wenstrom said it's likely that folic acid is regulating certain genes that malfunction to cause early labor. "Now that we know that folic acid makes a huge difference, researchers can look at the different reactions that folic acid causes and see which might be related to preterm labor," she said.

A premature birth is one that occurs before 37 weeks' gestation, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). Improved medical knowledge and technology have made survival for these small infants more likely -- of babies born at 28 weeks or after, 90 percent are expected to survive, according to the NIH.

But the earlier a baby is delivered, the greater the risk of serious complications, including bleeding in the brain, infection, delayed growth and intestinal problems, according to the NIH.

The new study included 38,033 women pregnant with one baby. Women who had known pregnancy complications, such as preeclampsia or high blood pressure, and women pregnant with babies with known chromosomal or other birth defects weren't included in the study.
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