“Pregnant women could be offered a new drug to reduce their chances of having a baby with serious defects. Researchers at the Institute of Child Health have developed a treatment that is potentially more effective than folic acid in preventing ‘neural tube defects’ in newborn children.”
This recent press coverage discussed a research project into Folic Acid (Folate) supplementation for women both during pregnancy and post-birth. The research focus was on the impact of Folic Acid in helping to prevent NTD (Neural Tube Defects) in newborn babies. This particular research was released shortly after the update from EFSA (The European Food Safety Authority) that folate had been issued with a ‘favourable opinion’; specifically on the use of supplemental folate to reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTD) such as spina bifida and anencephaly in newborn children.
We covered in-depth the EFSA update and the benefits of Folic Acid (a B-Complex Vitamin) in pregnancy in a recent blog post (link further below). UK Department of Health has stated: “Women who are planning a pregnancy or might become pregnant, or who are already pregnant, should also take folic acid supplement and vitamin D supplements.”
The publication of the research so soon after the EFSA ruling seemed to be interesting and one wondered what else the researchers had to add to the bulk of already positive research published to-date. The key aspect of the research was indeed the inclusion of ‘nucleotides’ with the Folic Acid; it was reported as: “The treatment involves supplementing folic acid with nucleotides, which help ensure the growth of crucial cells in the embryo” (link to full story below).
So it would appear that the researchers have used folic acid plus substances that control and promote growth selectively. Basically it is a form of folic acid targeted at the embryo by virtue of the protein stimulating properties off the attached nucleotides. Whilst we would not wish to diminish the importance of the research we would suggest that using Methylfolate at the right stages of pregnancy would allow the correct proteins to be stimulated.
Methylfolate is emerging as a new and exciting food supplement for anyone who needs to supplement with Folate (also known as Folic Acid). Methylfolate (also known as 5-MTHF and L-Methylfolate) is the most stable, safe and bioeffective form of Folate. It is ideal as a supplement for pregnant women and women planning pregnancy.
Folic Acid and NTDs
Folic acid helps prevent NTDs because it is a growth promoter and the neural tubes develop very early on in pregnancy and need to grow very rapidly in a short space of time. If a pregnant mother is short of Folic Acid at this time the neural tubes do not grow as needed and this cannot be remedied later on in the pregnancy. Hence suitable Folic Acid levels are time sensitive specifically in respect of NTD and important throughout pregnancy and after birth – for both mother and baby.
Yes, the nucleotides will help to target delivery but is this really necessary as there is plenty of data to show that Folic Acid will prevent NTDs if given sufficiently early on in pregnancy. Methylfolate supplementation as the most bioeffective form of Folate, would in our opinion, be an even better option. To reiterate the key is getting the right levels of Folic Acid at the right stages – and making sure mothers-to-be are aware that this is important, as the UK health authorities have been endeavoring to do.
Preconception Planning & Folate
It is important to note that neural tubes are one of the first things to develop in the embryo. Indeed the embryo may be at this development stage before the mother is aware that she is pregnant. Therefore it is most important to ensure your Folic Acid levels are good if you are preconception planning. Remember the UK Department of Health advice is: “Women who are planning a pregnancy or might become pregnant, or who are already pregnant, should also take folic acid supplements.”
Forward planning is the optimal approach for conception and pregnancy as baby’s development is well underway once pregnancy has been confirmed. So planning for a healthy baby needs to begin as soon as possible, ideally 6 months before conception, or at least 3 months, as it is during this time that the sperm and ova commence their maturation process. Both are extremely vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies and toxins at this stage.
If you have any questions regarding this article, any of the health topics raised, or any other health matters please do contact me (Amanda) by phone or email at any time.