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Diet & Health : Children & Women Last Updated: Apr 20, 2011 - 9:38:09 AM

Mediterranean diet may reduce risk of birth defect
By Sue Mueller
Feb 17, 2009 - 4:29:11 PM

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Feb 17, 2009 ( -- Pregnant women may help prevent their babies from developing a serious spinal cord defect by eating a Mediterranean diet during pregnancy, a new study published in the Feb 2009 issue of An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology suggests.

The study led by Dr. Regine P. M. Steegers-Theunissen of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam and colleagues showed that pregnant women who ate more fruit, vegetables, healthy oils, fish and whole grains were at a lower risk of giving birth to a child with spina bifida than those who ate less.

Folic acid found in vegetables is known to be protective against this birth defect, but the protection observed in the study was not due to folic acid only, the researchers suggested.

Steegers-Theunissen was quoted as telling Reuters Health "It's not only folate which is protective, but it's the whole diet. It's the balance of the diet in which folate is an important component."

The study involved 50 women who have given birth to a child with spina bifida and 81 women whose children did not have the defect.

The researchers found women whose diet was least similar to a Mediterranean diet were nearly three times more likely to have a child with spina bifida than those who adhered closely to a Mediterranean diet.  

They found women who followed a diet similar to Mediterranean diet had high levels of folate and vitamin B12.

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