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Spina Bifida Is Common, And 70 Percent Avoidable



More than 50 babies are born with spina bifida every year in New Zealand - which makes it a common condition," says Lyall Thurston, National President, New Zealand CCS.

"What is worse is that 70 percent of these cases are avoidable - if the mother had taken the B-group vitamin folate - either in their diet or through supplements one month prior to and three months after becoming pregnant," said Mr Thurston.

"Given the importance of folate in reducing the risk, we are extremely concerned that many New Zealand women are missing out on folate at the critical time, before and during the first few weeks of pregnancy."

ACNeilsen research at the end of last year (1999) showed that over half of all women in New Zealand between 18 and 44 years don't know about folate and its benefits.

Spina bifida is a neural tube defect (NTD) which occur when the brain and spinal chord fail to form completely. Another form of NTD is anencephaly - when the brain fails to develop.

"Quite why fetuses develop such defects remain a mystery but we do know that in the human body folic acid is converted to folate which helps enzymes to build DNA and RNA. Folic acid also appears to have a role in controlling the activity of genes."

Mr Thurston along with New Zealand CCS is determined that all women of child bearing age in the country should be aware of the benefits of folate and reduce the incidence of the condition. Mr Thurston's son has spina bifida.

"As world authority, Dr Godfrey P Oakley, said - `one of the most exciting medical findings of the last part of the 20 Century is that folic acid, a simple, widely available, water-soluble vitamin, can prevent spina bifida and anencephaly. Not since the rubella vaccine became available 30 years ago have we had a comparable opportunity for primary prevention of such common and serious birth defects'."

Dr Oakley is Head of the Division of Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, National Centre for Environmental Health, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Atlanta Georgia.

Folate is found in leafy green vegetables, fruit, legumes, grains, and some breads and cereals. It is also available in tablet form as folic acid.

New Zealand CCS National Folate Awareness Day is 20 April.




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