Women who eat a low-fat, fiber-rich diet in the year leading up to pregnancy are less likely to give birth to babies with birth defects, according to new study.
A U.S. study by doctors at the Stanford University School of Medicine found that mothers who had a healthy diet had fewer babies with birth defects. The study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Magazine is the first that studies the mother-to-be overall diet instead of just focusing on one nutrient.
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A parent holds a new born baby.
"A lot of birth defects, including neural tube defects, occur very early in pregnancy, before women even know they're pregnant," said Suzan Carmichael from Stanford University, one of the study's authors.
"These messages are important for women who are at any risk of becoming pregnant."
The researchers had been concerned if eating a healthy balanced diet would have the same positive effect as getting extra vitamins and mineral supplements. Previous studies have found that folic acid can help protect against neural-lube defects. However ingesting folic acid hasn't completely prevented all neural-lube defects like anencephaly, a fatal brain defect, and spina bifida, which can cause partial paralysis of the legs as well as urinary and bowel problems. Researchers then looked for other factors that can play a role in the prevention of birth defects.
Carmichael and her team then looked at data from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study to compare women who had a baby with a neural lube defect with women who had healthy babies. They asked the women what foods they had eaten in the months before they became pregnant. They then analyzed how those women who had followed a healthy diet correlated with the number of those who had given birth to babies with birth defects.
The team found that women with a diet closely matching the USDA Food Guide Pyramid were half as likely to have a baby with birth defects as women who strayed from the diet. They were also 34 percent less likely to have a baby with cleft lip and 26 percent less likely to have one with cleft palate.
Epidemiologist David Jacobs, from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, said the study showed that a healthy diet can lower the risk of birth defects much like taking daily folic acid supplements.
"If you are a woman about to become pregnant or think you might become pregnant, it's all the more reason for you to take care of yourself and seek out better foods," Jacobs, who wrote a commentary accompanying the study, told Reuters.
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