Other B vitamins have generated some legislation in the North Carolina General Assembly. They began considering a bill last week that would create a statewide vitamin distribution program in an effort to prevent or reduce birth defects. The bill would appropriate $480,000 for each of the next two years to purchase multivitamins with folic acid, which would then be distributed to low-income women of childbearing age through local health departments and other safety net providers such as community health centers and rural and migrant health centers.
This comes on the heels of the study published in the journal Pediatrics which found that women who take enough B12 and folic acid before they become pregnant can dramatically cut their risk of having a baby with a serious birth defect of the brain and spinal cord.
Neural tube defects can lead to lifelong disability or death. The two most common ones are spina bifida, in which the spinal cord and back bones do not form properly, and anencephaly, a fatal condition in which the brain and skull bones do not develop normally.
Vitamin B12 is also essential to maintain healthy nerve cells and red blood cells. It is found in meat, dairy products, eggs, fish, shellfish and fortified breakfast cereals. It also can be taken as an individual supplement or in a multivitamin.
“An absolutely critical point is that women have to consider this before they become pregnant because once they realize they are pregnant it’s likely to be too late,” said Dr. James Mills, a researcher in the NIH’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and one of the authors of the study. The developmental events involved in these birth defects occur in the first four weeks of pregnancy, Mills said.