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Diet can lower birth defects

Encouraging women to improve the overall quality of their diet – and not just folic acid intake – could lead to a reduction in birth defects, concludes a US study.

The survey of more than 10,000 women - almost 4,000 of whom whose foetuses or infants had a neural tube defect or a cleft lip or palate – found those who ate a varied diet, and low amounts of processed food, were 51% and 34% less likely to give birth to a child with anencephaly and a cleft lip, respectively.

There were weaker associations for spina bifida and cleft palate.

Study leader Dr Suzan Carmichael, associate professor of paediatrics at Stanford University, said: ‘Our study showed for the first time that the overall quality of the diet matters in terms of reducing the risk of birth defects.'

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med, published online 3 October 2011

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