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New information leaflet: plans for children should include folic acid!

08/2001, 15.02.2001

A baby? Not now but later: plans to have children should include folic acid - that is the most important information in the new brochure "Pregnancy and folic acid" published jointly by the Robert Koch Institute and the Federal Institute for Health Protection of Consumers and Veterinary Medicine. The information is available in German and Turkish. The campaign to inform young women and pregnant women about the importance of adequate folic acid intake is supported by the German Society for Gynaecology and Obstetrics, the Berufsverband der Frauenärzte (Association of Gynaecologists), the German Academy for Paediatrics and Youth Medicine and the spina bifida working group.

Folic acid, the "pregnancy vitamin"! In the first days following conception the impregnated egg and the developing foetus need a particularly high level of folic acid because they are growing rapidly. Folic acid plays a major role in cell division and growth processes. In the first four weeks of pregnancy - during which time pregnancy largely goes unnoticed - the brain and spinal cord develop and the spinal cord canal must close. Insufficient supply with folic acid is one of the reasons for the malformation of the spinal cord and the central nervous system as a consequence of neural tube defects. This can lead to an open back (spina bifida). Every year at least 1,600 unborn children are affected. Those who are born have varying degrees of severe disability. A life, as pointed out by the spina bifida working group, that is different but which need not be less fulfilled.

Protection for less than 30 Pfennig (i.e. 15 Euro-Cent) a day. The need for folic acid in women and in unborn foetuses cannot even be covered with a healthy and balanced diet. Additional folic acid must, therefore, be administered to the body through suitable products. "This can be food supplements or medicinal products containing folic acid. The costs are around 30 Pfennig a day", stressed Dr. Hildegard Przyrembel, head of the Division for Nutritional Prophylaxis and Nutritional Therapy within the Federal Institute for Health Protection of Consumers and Veterinary Medicine. Studies involving up to 200,000 women have shown that the additional intake of folic acid can reduce the frequency of deformities to the spinal cord and central nervous system. Medical associations have, therefore, recommended since 1985 that all women who wish to conceive or who are not using contraceptives take in 400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) of folic acid every day - in addition to the folates contained in foods.

A study conducted by the Robert Koch Institute within the framework of the federal health survey on the folic acid supply of young women shows that only 1% of the women examined between 18 and 40 years old took in sufficient amounts of folic acid products. It can be assumed that not all these women wanted to become pregnant. "Nevertheless, the findings confirm that there is a major information deficit about the possible consequences of a folic acid deficiency for the foetus", comments Dr. Bärbel-Maria Bellach, head of the Division for Epidemiology and Health Reporting at RKI. The laboratory studies reveal that in 80% of women folic acid supply (measured in red blood cells) was in a range which would double the likelihood of their giving birth to a child with an open spine.

Families who know they are about to conceive a handicapped child or who have given birth to a child with spina bifida can obtain advice and support from the spina bifida working group (Münsterstraße 13, in 44145 Dortmund,

Both the German and Turkish information leaflets can be obtained free of charge by writing to the
Press and Public Relations Office of BgVV (Federal Institute for Health Protection of Consumers and Veterinary Medicine)
Thielallee 88-92
14195 Berlin
Fax: +49-(0)30 1 8412-4970


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