(RxWiki News) One of the most important parts of medical science in pregnancy has been showing the effects of the maternal environment on the developing child.
Folic acid, now found in nearly every type of grain product, is one of the most important nutrients for the developing brain.
Research recently published examined the link between the government-mandated addition of folic acid to many foods found that afterwards, the rates of severe anatomical disorders of the brain decreased, as predicted.
What wasn't predicted was finding that some types of childhood cancer also became less common.
"Ask your doctor about nutrition in pregnancy. "
The study authors used the data from a 22 year period, noting the changes in 1992, after recommendations for all women to include folic acid in their diet, and again another change when the FDA mandated folic acid fortification in 1998.
Specifically, rates of Wilm's tumor, which is a childhood cancer of the kidney, a brain tumor known as primitive neuroectodermal tumors unique to children, and anatomical defects of the brain and spine all had significant and sustained decreases over this time period.
"We found that Wilms' tumor rates increased from 1986 to 1997 and decreased thereafter, which is an interesting finding since the downward change in the trend coincides exactly with folic acid fortification," Kimberly Johnson, PhD, stated.
Johnson went on to explain,"PNET rates increased from 1986 to 1993 and decreased thereafter. This change in the trend does not coincide exactly with folic acid fortification, but does coincide nicely with the 1992 recommendation for women of childbearing age to consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily."
The National Cancer Institute's landmark cancer study, the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER) has been in effect since 1973 and has been invaluable in discovering trends in cancer diagnosis.
Initially there was concern that fortifying foods with this nutrient would cause unintended problems, but so far the data seems to be positive.
"[The data shows] that folic acid fortification does not appear to be increasing rates of childhood cancers, which is good news," Julie Ross, PhD and study author concluded.
While more studies are needed before definite conclusions about the proper amount of folic acid needed, and to eliminate confounding variables, the link appears fairly straightforward at first glance.
The study was published in the journal Pediatrics on May 21, 2012.
Financial disclosures were not made publicly available.