A study suggests that hundreds of children could be spared from cancer each year in Canada if pregnant women, or those trying to conceive, took prenatal multivitamins fortified with folic acid on a daily basis. Actually, only 40 to 50% of pregnant women take prenatal multivitamins, even though studies clearly demonstrated that taking them before and during pregnancy helps prevent congenital neural tube defects.
The Canadian study, the most important of its kind, demonstrated that mothers-to-be who took vitamin supplements during the first trimester of their pregnancy could diminish, by up to 47%, the risk their child had of suffering from leukemia, cerebral tumours and neuroblastoma. These three common infantile cancers currently kill over 1,000 Canadian kids each year. And those who survive these traumas have long-lasting after-effects from the treatments they endured. Using prenatal multivitamins as a preventative measure could therefore be an inexpensive way to prevent many of these diseases.
Folic acid has already proven beneficial. Since 1998, when Canada began enforcing the rule that breads, flours and other foods have to be enriched with this vitamin, the rate of neural tube defects has plummeted. The neural tube is one of the first structures to develop in the first days of gestation. It is the foundation of the nervous system that later becomes the brain and spinal cord.
Another research team demonstrated last year that multivitamins fortified with folic acid can protect babies against some congenital birth defects of the heart and placenta, cleft palate and congenital hydrocephalus. Congenital hydrocephalus is an accumulation of water in the head that can lead to irreversible brain damage.
It is not yet known exactly which vitamins and minerals can protect babies from cancer, but it is possible that folic acid, which plays an essential role in cellular function, may be solely responsible for these benefits.
Evidently, a well-balanced diet is essential for a mother-to-be to get all the nutrients her foetus needs to develop normally. However, it is important to remember that even when women eat healthfully, rare are those who get enough folic acid. You should not skimp on prenatal multivitamins, even before conceiving, as the very first weeks of gestation are crucial in the development of the neural tube.
If you are planning to conceive in the near future or have already received the good news that you are pregnant, speak with your physician, obstetrician or pharmacist to get the very best advice on how to put all the chances on your baby’s side.