Objectives: A recent controlled trial has established that use of a 4-mg folic acid supplement before and during early pregnancy reduces the risk of recurrent neural tube defects (NTDs) by 72%. The present study was designed to determine whether folic acid also reduces the risk of first (occurrent) NTDs.
Design: Case-control study.
Setting: Tertiary and birth hospitals in metropolitan areas of Boston, Mass, Philadelphia, Pa, and Toronto, Ontario.
Participants: Mothers of 436 occurrent cases with NTDs and mothers of 2615 controls with other major malformations.
Main outcome measures: The prevalence of use of multivitamins containing folic acid was compared between mothers of cases and controls.
Results: The mothers of 17% of cases and 3% of controls reported knowledge of the folic acid-NTD hypothesis and were excluded from further analysis. For daily use of a multivitamins containing folic acid in the periconceptional period (28 days before through 28 days after the last menstrual period), the relative risk (RR) (and 95% confidence interval) was 0.4 (0.2 to 0.6). The most commonly used dose of folic acid was 0.4 mg, and the RR estimate was 0.3 (95% confidence interval, 0.1 to 0.6). For dietary folate, there was a dose-related decline in risk according to the quintile of intake (P for trend = .02).
Conclusion: These findings suggest that daily periconceptional intake of 0.4 mg of folic acid (the dose most commonly contained in over-the-counter multivitamin preparations) reduces the risk of occurrent NTDs by approximately 60%. A relatively high dietary intake of folate may also reduce the risk.