Vitamin B-12 May Prevent Birth Defects

Women of childbearing age (especially those who are pregnant or trying to conceive) are advised to eat 400 mg of folic acid (folate) daily to prevent neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, from occurring in their babies. New research, reported in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, shows that vitamin B-12 may also play a role.

Researchers took blood samples and measured B-12 levels of two groups of women: those who gave birth to children with spina bifida, and those who gave birth to otherwise healthy children. They also measured the B-12 levels in the blood of both groups of children.

Mothers of children with spina bifida had blood levels of vitamin B-12 that were 21 percent lower than mothers of healthy children. Mothers with the lowest B-12 levels were three times more likely to give birth to a child with spina bifida.

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Adult males and females need 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B-12 daily. The best sources of vitamin B-12 include animal products, such as organ meats, beef, pork, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, and other dairy foods. Therefore, vitamin B-12 intake is mostly a concern for vegetarians and vegans who omit these foods and follow plant-based diets. Some foods are fortified with vitamin B-12 and are fair sources of the nutrient. These include: nutritional yeast (100% RDA in 2 teaspoons), fortified cereals (usually 100% RDA per serving), non-dairy alternatives like soy milk (content varies), and vegetarian meat alternatives (content varies). Vegetarians and vegans can also meet their daily need for B-12 by taking a vitamin supplement.