MONDAY, Oct. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Pregnant women who eat a healthy diet appear to reduce the risk of having a baby with a major birth defect, such as spina bifida or a cleft lip or palette, a new study suggests.
Neural tube birth defects -- including spina bifida and other brain abnormalities -- are known to decrease when pregnant women take supplements of folic acid, a type of vitamin B that also has been added to a variety of foods. However, folic acid alone does not prevent all birth defects, the researchers said.
"There may be certain qualities of foods that have benefits that aren't captured by examining just one nutrient at a time," said lead researcher Suzan L. Carmichael, an associate professor of pediatrics at Stanford University.
Diet could also be related to reducing birth defects because a combination of nutrients from a variety of foods may act together in a beneficial way, Carmichael said. "It is also possible that a healthy diet is a marker for other characteristics of a woman's lifestyle.
"Our study supports recommendations that have been made for many years for pregnant women," she said. "Eat a variety of foods, include a lot of fruits and vegetables and whole grains in your diet and take a vitamin supplement that contains folic acid."
Although folic acid can prevent up to 40 percent of neural tube defects, it's not the whole story, Carmichael said. "Babies are still born with neural tube defects, so we need to keep looking for answers," she said.
The report was published in the Oct. 3 online edition of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
Using data from the U.S. National Birth Defects Prevention Study for October 1997 through December 2005, Carmichael's team looked at the role diet plays in birth defects. During telephone interviews, mothers described their diet.
The researchers looked at cases of 93
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