Food rich in folate may help reduce congenital heart defects

fruits rich in folate

Folic acid, or folate, is one of the B vitamins. It is used as a supplement during pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects. It is also used to treat anemia caused by folic acid deficiency.

Now researchers find another health benefit of folic acid: it is linked to decline in congenital heart defects, in which the heart or blood vessels near the heart don’t develop normally before birth.

The finding is published in Circulation (a journal from American Heart Association), and researchers from University of British Columbia led the study.

They carried out a population-based cohort study (about 5, 901, 701 participants) of all live births and stillbirths (including late-pregnancy terminations) delivered at more than 20 weeks’ gestation in Canada from 1990 to 2011.

Congenital heart defects were diagnosed at birth and in infancy (72,591 cases). Researchers then compared prevalence rates and temporal trends in congenital heart defect subtypes before and after 1998 (the year that fortification was mandated).

An ecological study based on 22 calendar years, 14 geographic areas, and Poisson regression analysis was used to quantify the effect of folic acid food fortification on congenital heart defect subtypes (66,980 cases) after controlling for changes in maternal age, pre-pregnancy diabetes, multiple birth, and termination of pregnancy.

Researchers found that the overall birth prevalence rate of congenital heart defects was 12.3 per 1000 total births. Rates of most congenital heart defect subtypes decreased between 1990 and 2011 except for one subtype.

Importantly, folic acid food intake was associated with lower rates of almost all congenital heart defect subtypes but not other heart or circulatory system abnormalities.

Researchers suggest that the study provide clear evidence for the association between food rich with folic acid and a reduction in the birth prevalence of specific congenital heart defects.

Many fruits and vegetables are good sources of folic acid. In the US, bread, cereal, flour, cornmeal, pasta, rice, and other grain products are fortified with folic acid. Beef liver contains high amounts of folate. Avocado, peas, beans, nuts, and eggs also have folic acid.

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Citation: Liu S, et al. (2016). Effect of Folic Acid Food Fortification in Canada on Congenital Heart Disease Subtypes Clinical Perspective. Circulation, 134: 647-655. DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.116.022126.
Figure legend: This image is for illustrative purposes only.