A recent announcement from the wonderful World Spina Bifida & Hydrocephalus Day website brought back some memories for me.
Even before I became pregnant with my son, I heard about the importance of taking folic acid to prevent a condition called spina bifida. One of the causes of this often fatal condition is a deficiency of the B vitamin, folic acid which aids in the formation of neural tubes during fetal development. Folic acid, which is added to many cereals and found naturally in leafy greens, citrus, and beans, promotes the healthy development of red blood cells that carry and support the fetus.
But there are other causes. Environmental factors and genetics can play a role. Specifically, if the mother has a rare genetic variation called methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase variant (try saying that three times, fast), or MTHFR gene variant. Studies have found that women with two C677T gene variants have an increased risk for having a child with neural tube defects, according to the United States’ National Institutes of Health Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center.
Out of the approximately four million children born in the US every year, only 1200 have this rare disease. But globally is a different story. In developing countries and impoverished areas where nutrition and prenatal care are an issue, these numbers are higher. There are 300,000 babies born with neural tube defects, including spina bifida and hydrocephalus (an increase in fluid on the brain) around the world each year.