A daily dose of multivitamin tablets that include folic acid, taken by women around the time of conception, could almost halve the rate of major congenital abnormalities in babies, according to a study published Thursday in the British Medical Journal.
Dr. Andrew Czeizel of the National Institute of Hygiene in Budapest conducted the controlled trial in Hungary and said the results could help prevent the cause of birth defects.
"It is a major finding because it will be helpful in preventing neural tube defects and congenital abnormalities," he said.
Czeizel analyzed 4,156 pregnant women who had been given multivitamins including folic acid, a form of vitamin B, or who had taken placebos which have no physiological effect.
"The rate of major congenital abnormalities . . . was nearly double in the group that received trace elements (placebos) compared with the group receiving multivitamins," the British Medical Journal said in a statement about the report.
Abnormalities classed as major congenital defects include cleft palate, absence of kidneys and Down's syndrome.
The study said neural tube defects, such as the absence of the skull and brain and spina bifida in which part of the spinal cord is exposed through a gap in the backbone, also could be reduced.