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HEALTH REPORT - October 23, 2002: Folic Acid Reduces Fetal Deaths - 2002-10-22

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

A new study in Sweden has confirmed another important health effect of the B-vitamin known as folic acid.

Researchers at the United States National Institute of Child Health and Human Development worked with scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. They reported their findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers were looking for a possible link between folic acid and fetal death in the early months of pregnancy. The study involved more than one-thousand-three-hundred pregnant women in Uppsala County, Sweden. The researchers measured the amount of folic acid in their blood during the sixth and twelfth weeks of pregnancy.

Four-hundred-sixty-eight of the women had miscarriages. Their babies died between six and twelve weeks of pregnancy. Nine-hundred-twelve other women had normal pregnancies.

The researchers found that the women with low levels of folic acid had a fifty percent increased risk of losing their babies early in pregnancy. Extremely high levels of folic acid were found to have no effects on the pregnancies.

The researchers say that every woman between the ages of fifteen and forty-four should be getting four-hundred micrograms of folic acid every day. Earlier studies have shown that having enough folic acid in the early months of pregnancy can reduce the risk of having a baby born with a serious birth defect of the brain or spine. Experts say women need to have enough folic acid even before they become pregnant.

Doctors say women of child-bearing age are not the only ones who need folic acid. The vitamin has been shown to protect against heart disease and stroke in older people as well. And some studies are suggesting that folic acid may reduce the chances of developing some kinds of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

The human body cannot make folic acid. It must get the vitamin from foods. Foods rich in folic acid include beans, green leafy vegetables, liver, eggs and fruits such as oranges and grapefruits. Medical experts say that women who are not sure they are getting enough folic acid from their food should take a vitamin pill every day.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Nancy Steinbach.