Diet defects may lead to birth defects

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A healthful diet may actually lower a woman s risk of having a child with serious birth defects, reports a study now online in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. Specifically, a fiber-rich diet low in saturated fat in the year before pregnancy has been linked to a lower incidence of fetuses and infants with a neural-tube defect, or a cleft lip or palate.

Research led by doctors at Stanford University School of Medicine reviewed the National Birth Defects Prevention Study to focus on about 10,000 women who gave birth between 1997 and 2005. Of these women, over 60 percent had healthy infants and about one-third had fetuses or infants with a neural tube defect or a cleft lip or palate. Researchers scored the women s overall diet quality according to how well they corresponded to the USDA Dietary Guidelines, as well as to a Mediterranean diet plan. Significantly, the study found that women whose diets scored the highest were 36 to 51 percent less likely to have a fetus or infant with the most common neural tube defect, compared to women who ate the least healthfully. Those with the most healthful diets also were between 24 and 34 percent less likely to have a baby with a cleft lip,

ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava considers these data impressive. The study is more reliable than many, she says, because it required the women to track their diets as they went along, rather than relying on recall. Given that, she observes, It really does reinforce how important it is for women who are pregnant, or are planning to become pregnant to pay attention to their diets. This study also gives us some insight about how important it can be to avoid unplanned pregnancies.