Sometimes so popular low carb diet can lead to vital substance deficiencies. It is therefore not recommended in pregnancy without an additional dietary supplement.
Researchers showed that a certain form of low carb diet during pregnancy can increase the risk of birth defects. These are the so called neural tube defects, such as the open spine (spina bifida). According to researchers from the University of North Carolina, the risk of neural tube defects increases by 30 percent under Low Carb.
Birth defects more common among low carb diets
A good supply of folic acid before pregnancy and in the first weeks of pregnancy should be able to prevent certain birth defects (neural tube defects, some cleft palate, heart defects) quite reliable. However, since some forms of low carb diets provide only small amounts of folic acid, the risk of neural tube defects rises with this diet considerably.
Neural tube defects: malformations of the spine and skull
Neural tube defects are manifested, for example, in the so called open spine (spina bifida). At the same time the spine does not close completely. In later life, sufferers - depending on the nature of the spina bifida - may suffer from disability or paralysis; bladder and bowel control can also be problematic.
The most severe form of neural tube defect is anencephaly, in which the skullcap does not close properly and consequently parts of the skullcap and brain are missing. Children born with anencephaly are generally only viable for a few days.
Since neural tube defects are usually found during the usual preventive check-ups, the majority of women in non-treatable forms opts for abortion.
Folic acid is intended to prevent neural tube defects
Numerous studies from recent decades show that folic acid can protect against neural tube defects. Therefore, as early as 1998, the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration) decided that all cereal products (flour and breakfast cereals) should be fortified with 140 micrograms of folic acid per 100 grams of food. In the following years, a significant decrease in neural tube defects was observed there, which is attributed to folic acid accumulation.
Before folic acid accumulation, 4,100 pregnancies per year were reported to be affected by neural tube defects in the USA (1 out of 1000 - just like in Germany at the moment, figures from Switzerland are not available as there are no birth defects at all). After folic acid fortification, the number of neural tube defects in the US dropped to 3,000. The number of deaths from neural tube defects has also fallen thanks to folic acid accumulation - from 1,200 a year to 840.
Low carb increases the risk of neural tube defects
In a pronounced low carb diet, however, one often eats hardly any vegetables and of course no fortified flour products or cereal. As a result, the folic acid level is falling, raising the risk of developing neural tube defects again, according to researchers at the University of North Carolina (UNC). They evaluated data from more than 11,000 pregnant women from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study (1998-2011). 1,740 cases with open back or anencephaly were observed during these years.
It was found that those women who followed low-carb diets had a lower folic acid intake than other women. At the same time, they had a 30 percent higher risk for a baby with a neural tube defect.
Even low calorie diets can promote neural tube defects
"Of course, we have long known that mother's diet before and during pregnancy significantly influences the development of the embryo", said Dr. Tania Desrosiers, a professor of epidemiology at UNC. It may also be the fact that many women take too few calories in the low carb diet. Of course, this can not only lead to a folic acid deficiency, but also a shortage of many other nutrients and vital substances. Even a diet with limited calorie count can increase the risk of a neural tube defect. (Other risk factors include smoking, obesity, diabetes and medicines for epilepsy).
Although many women would now resort to folic acid preparations. However, a majority of pregnancies are unplanned and therefore discovered at a time when it is long since too late for folic acid supplementation and neural tube prophylaxis.
Prevent birth defects: cover folic acid intake and avoid low carb diets
So to prevent the birth defects mentioned above, it makes sense not to practice an extreme form of low carb diet and to pay attention to meet the folic acid needs. Since a folate-rich diet at the same time a very healthy diet is, the benefits are numerous and are not limited to the Neuralrohrdefektprophylaxe. A moderate low carb diet that includes many vegetables and salads and such. As peanuts is added, of course, no problem.
Folic acid belongs to the group of B vitamins. It is naturally especially present in dark green leafy vegetables and in herbs. Cabbage, legumes, nuts and some fruits are also good folic acid suppliers. The natural form of folic acid is called folate; only the synthetic form is called folic acid. For the sake of simplicity, we have consistently opted for the term folic acid.
In Europe so far - in contrast to the USA - only a few foods are fortified with folic acid. There are only some muesli bars that contain an extra portion of folic acid or even folic acid-enriched table salt.
The requirement for folic acid for the general population is 300-400 μg per day. Pregnant women are recommended to use about 550 μg per day. Its ideal for planned pregnancy and then in the early months of pregnancy, the combination of folate-rich diet with a folic acid-containing supplements.
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