The birth of a child with any form of a defect can be an earth shattering event for the parents. There has been an enormous amount of research on this subject over the past few years. Many of the studies suggest a link between a nutrition deficiency and some of the defects.
There is strong evidence to indicate that the B vitamin folic acid can help to prevent some of the incidents of birth defects.
Folic acid research has shown that it can help to prevent neural tube birth defects. This includes spina bifida and anencephaly. With this in mind we must ask ourselves is there any connection between folic acid and orofacial cleft birth defects?
The cleft is a failure of tissue to grow properly together. In this case, it is the mouth and the roof of the mouth that does not form correctly. There are two major types of facial cleft.
Cleft lip is where the two sides of the lip are separated. In some cases, it can include the bones of the maxilla and the upper gum. The actual size of the cleft can vary as well.
The cleft palate is an opening in the roof of the mouth. The majority of the hard palate at the front of the roof, however, in some cases the soft palate at the rear of the mouth can be involved. In both cases, the actual severity can vary quite considerably.
It is usually five to nine weeks after conception that orofacial clefts can occur. Formation of the lip and palate happen during this time, although each develop separately. There is no compulsory screening for orofacial clefts, although they can be detected by ultrasound. Therefore, it is only when the baby is born that the cleft condition is recognised.
The incidence of neural tube defects is one in 500, but for orofacial clefts it is one in 750, with one state rising as high as one in 450. More than 100 affected children are born every year.
The exact cause of this condition has not been pinpointed, but it is suspected that it is a combination of genes and environmental factors. However, orofacial clefts are quite often linked to other defects as part of a syndrome. There are several hundred syndromes that are associated with this condition. Many syndromes have well-known chromosomal or genetic causes.
It is possible to repair these clefts with surgery. Even so, multiple surgeries are normally required to complete the reconstruct the lip and the palate. There are other problems, which are associated with this condition. These include feeding problems, ear infections, speech and dental problems. However, we must not forget the effect these surgeries have on both the child and its parents.
Needless to say the medical bills for this treatment run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars per child.
It is the most common birth defect in this country. Sadly, around 15% of the babies born with this condition die before the age of one. This is usually because of associated birth defects.
Is there a connection between folic acid and orofacial clefts?
Mothers with orofacial cleft infants and mothers with none orofacial infants were part of a recent study. All mothers were asked if they had taken either multivitamins with folic acid or eating cereal fortified with folic acid.
The results indicated that the mothers who had taken multivitamins from one month through to two months after conception reduce their risk by 25 to 50% compared to the women who did not use multivitamins.
However, the study stressed that this result may not be due, specifically to folic acid on its own. The majority opinion thought that it might be the result of the other ingredients in the multivitamins acting in synergy with the folic acid.
Women who could become pregnant should increase their daily amount of folic acid. This can be done either by the proper diet or by a folic acid supplement.
If you are pregnant then you should contact your doctor and ask his advice before starting any form of a supplement.