Low-Carbohydrate Diet May Increase Risk of Birth Defects – Study finds

Staying in shape and maintaining weight is an essential part of many people’s life. While trying to reach their fitness goals, people try a variety of different diets along with exercising every day of the week.

Some of those diets are highly effective and can help in losing pounds in no time. One of such diets is a low-carbohydrate diet. Low-carb diets are becoming increasingly popular day by day but there is a new research which has shown the other side of the picture.

According to a recent research, the popularity of low-carbohydrate diet might disturb the positive effects of folic fortification which occurred in the past years.

What is folic fortification?

The folic fortification was an act carried out in 1998 under the guidelines of Food and Drug Administration for tackling birth defects known as neural tube defects (NTDs). NTDs are the malformations of the spinal cord, brain, and the spine.

These malformations include spina bifida which is a condition where the spinal column does not close completely as well as anencephaly in which major portions of the skull and the brain are not formed.

These defects develop before birth. A large number of studies on this matter showed that the risk of these defects developing in unborn babies can be reduced with the use of folic acid.

Low-Carbohydrate Diet May Increase Risk of Birth Defects - Study finds

Since folate masses were seen to be highly efficacious in cutting down the chances of neural tube defects, the Drug and Food Administration ruled that all of the cereals and grains should have at least 140 micrograms of folic acid per hundred grams of the product.

This was a successful step which led to a major drop in cases of babies born with neural tube defects. Studies show that folic acid fortification helps in prevention of more than 1,300 cases of babies born with NTDs.

RELATED: Folic Acid – Does it Stop Hair Loss?

Limiting carbohydrate intake in accordance with low-carb diet plans means that almost all foods enriched with folic acids such as cereals, bread, and pasta have to be greatly restricted or completely avoided.

In addition, low-carbohydrate diets have also been linked to a low intake of micronutrients that are otherwise required by the body.

Researchers from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill stated in their study published in the journal Birth Defects Research that women who follow low-carbohydrate diets may be at a higher risk of having a pregnancy affected by NTDs.

In the study, the researchers incorporated data from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study that was held between the years 1998-2011.

The data had details of 11,285 women from states such as Georgia, California, Arkansas, New York, Utah, North Carolina, Iowa, Texas, and Massachusetts.

The study was funded by Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It was led by Tania Desrosiers who is a research assistant professor of epidemiology at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Out of the observed women, around 1,740 had terminations, stillbirths, and infants with spina bifida or anencephaly. The carbohydrate and folic intake of the women along with factors like education, alcohol consumption, and race were also taken into account.

Low-Carbohydrate Diet May Increase Risk of Birth Defects - Study finds

What did the study find?

The researchers found that the folic intake of the women on low-carbohydrate diets was less than half of the other women which also put them at a thirty percent higher risk of having infants with neural tube defects.

The role of maternal diet during the pregnancy to avoid defects and diseases was already well-known. This new study demonstrated that the risk of NTDs may increase by thirty percent because of low-carb diets.

This can be a big concern since these diets are popular. Secondly, it is often too late to avoid NTDs during most of the affected-pregnancy cases in the United States. This is because half of the pregnancies are unplanned and discovered much later.

In accordance with other research, more than twenty percent of the women of child-bearing ages in the United States have a low folic acid intake.

However, there is still much research needed on the matter since the authors in the study have themselves given alternative conclusions in the study. The researchers also mentioned another study that linked NTDs to the caloric restriction in the first trimester of pregnancy.