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Originally published June 8 2007

Vitamin B12 deficiency linked to heart defects in newborns

by Staff writer

Vitamin B12 deficiency in women near the time of conception increases the risk of having babies with congenital heart defects, according to researchers participating in the Dutch HAVEN study, an ongoing study designed to examine the relationship between environmental and genetic factors and congenital heart defects (CHD).

The study's findings on vitamin B12, suggesting some congenital heart defects are preventable, were first published in the European Journal of Nutrition in December 2006.

"The mother serves as the environment of the child as the embryo forms," said the study's project leader Régine Steegers-Theunissen, MD, PhD, of the Erasmus MC University Medical Center in Rotterdam, "Both genetic and environmental factors, such as nutrition and lifestyle, play important roles in the prevention or development of congenital heart defects."

Researchers surveyed 192 mothers of children with CHD and 216 mothers of children without CHD. Low intake of B12 was linked to CHD with the level of risk doubled among women with the lowest intake of B12.

"In this study we demonstrated for the first time that a low maternal dietary vitamin B12 intake is associated with an approximately twofold increased risk of having a baby with a congenital heart defect," Dr. Steegers-Theunissen stated, "Women who are planning a pregnancy should consume a diet rich in [folic acid] and vitamin B12, and if not possible should use a low-dose vitamin supplement containing both folic acid and vitamin B12."

The study found women with low B12 levels also tended to have high levels of homocysteine, a substance that raises the risk of heart disease and birth defects. Folic acid and vitamin B12 help keep homocysteine levels low.

Good sources of folic acid include leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, kale, mustard greens and collard greens; fruits including oranges; beans; and peas. Vitamin B12 is found in eggs and fish.

"It is important for expectant mothers to remember there's a lot more to prenatal nutritional than simply taking folic acid," said Mike Adams, author of The 7 Laws of Nutrition. "Vitamin B12 is extremely important to consume, yet most consumers take a toxic form of the vitamin called cyanocobalamin -- used in cheap multivitamin products. The healthy forms of vitamin B12 are methylcobalamin and hydroxycobalamin. Look for them on the nutrition facts labels of nutritional supplements, including prenatal vitamins," Adams said.

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