Women who are trying to conceive, or who are in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, are already advised to take 400 micrograms of folic acid each day
Mothers-to-be should take vitamin B12 to prevent their children developing birth defects such as spina bifida, a charity has said.
New research suggests that taking the supplement alongside folic acid will further help prevent the series of birth defects that affect the development of the spine and central nervous system.
Women who are trying to conceive, or who are in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, are already advised to take 400 micrograms of folic acid each day.
But the charity Shine, which helps individuals and families affected by spina bifida and hydrocephalus, is recommending that pregnant women, and those trying to conceive, should take 2.5mcg of B12 once a day with a meal.
It’s thought taking vitamin B12 alongside folic acid may be more effective than taking folic acid alone.
The recommendation comes after a new report from a leading authority on the issue, Professor John Scott, founder of the Vitamin Research Unit at the Institute of Molecular Medicine, Trinity College, Dublin.
He concluded: ‘It is clear that, as well as the addition of a folic acid supplement (400 mcg per day), the addition of a vitamin B12 component of at least 2.5 mcg per day would bring about a further significant and worthwhile risk reduction for neural tube defects.’
Neural tube defects (NTDs) still affect 1 in 1000 pregnancies in the UK. When taken correctly before and during pregnancy, folic acid could prevent up to 72 per cent of these cases.
Scientists worldwide have searched for ways to reduce the risk further, including studying the potential benefits of vitamin B12, which is essential for the body to metabolise folic acid.
This has highlighted a link between low folate and low B12 levels, with some studies suggesting a possible three-fold risk increase for NTDs in women with low levels of B12.
Jackie Bland, chief executive officer at Shine, said: ‘NTDs are a serious health threat which can lead to enormous challenges and painful decisions.
‘The most serious form, anencephaly, means that the baby will not live long beyond birth, and many babies born with spina bifida face a life with serious, multiple disabilities.
‘Shine is committed to the primary prevention of NTDs and as such it is our duty to make women aware of the potential benefits of B12.’ - By ANNA HODGEKISS