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Low Vitamin B12 at Conception and during pregnancy raises Risk of Neural Tube Defects

At a Glance: A study published in the March 2009 issue of the Journal of Pediatrics found that children born to women who have low levels of vitamin B12 around the time of conception could have an increased risk of a neural tube defect.

Researchers analyzed vitamin B12 status from blood samples taken at an average of 15 weeks’ gestation from three independent groups of Irish women. Group 1 blood samples were from 95 women during a neural tube defect–affected pregnancy. Group 2 included blood samples from 107 women who had a previous neural tube defect birth but whose current pregnancy was not affected. Group 3 samples were from 76 women during an affected pregnancy. Each group included control subjects.

Mothers of children affected by neural tube defects had significantly lower B12 status than controls. Women who had the lowest vitamin B12 levels had up to five times the risk of having a child with a neural tube defect than women with the highest levels. Pregnancy blood B12 concentrations of <250 ng/L (184 pmol/L) were associated with the highest risks.

Since vitamin B12 is essential for the production of red blood cells and health of the nervous system, deficiencies of vitamin B12 or folic acid could disrupt DNA synthesis and increase the risk of neural tube defects. The authors suggested that women have vitamin B12 levels of at least 300 ng/L (221 pmol/L) before becoming pregnant.

Pediatrics Vol. 123 No. 3 March 2009, pp. 917-923

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