Adding folic acid (vitamin B9) to food can significantly reduce the likelihood of congenital heart defects in babies, according to a Canadian study published on bmj.com.
Researchers in Quebec found that in the seven years after fortification of flour and pasta was made mandatory in 1998, there was a 6% decrease in defects per year. They conclude that this supports the theory that intake of folic acid (folate is a naturally occurring form) around conception reduces the risk to babies.
It is widely accepted that taking folic acid before conception and in early pregnancy reduces the risk of spina bifida and other neural-tube defects. Folate is needed to produce and maintain new cells, and is particularly important during periods of rapid cell division and growth, such as infancy and pregnancy.
Folate deficiency hinders DNA synthesis and cell division, most notably affecting bone marrow and cancer, both of which participate in rapid cell division.