Previously, because of what I learned in Biology class, I had thought Spina Bifida to be a genetic birth defect. Through the research for this post, I found out that there is really no single cause of Spina Bifida, but it is thought to be a combination of genetic, environmental, and nutritional factors.
That is a lot like CP in a way, because if you read my CP Awareness posts, you’ll find out that there are many different factors that can cause CP as well.
This took a lot more research on my part than my CP Awareness posts, because since I don’t live with it, I don’t have a lot of first-hand knowledge about it.
So mostly what I have below are pieces of articles that I have quoted from online sources. Read on!
“There is neither a single cause of spina bifida nor any known way to prevent it entirely. However, dietary supplementation with folic acid has been shown to be helpful in reducing the incidence of spina bifida”
“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Public Health Agency of Canada and UK recommended amount of folic acid for women of childbearing age and women planning to become pregnant is at least 0.4 mg/day of folic acid from at least three months before conception, and continued for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Women who have already had a baby with spina bifida or other type of neural tube defect, or are taking anticonvulsant medication should take a higher dose of 4–5 mg/day.”
“Certain mutations in the gene VANGL1 are implicated as a risk factor for spina bifida: These mutations have been linked with spina bifida in some families with a history of spina bifida.” [Wikipedia]
Spina Bifida is most common among hispanic women, and there are increased incidences of Spina Bifida in areas with a large amount of farm land. [Source: Kate. She learned this at the Spina Bifida Association National Conferences.]
That spiked my curiosity. Why would it be more common in areas with a lot of farm land? Why would that matter? If anything I would think it would be less common, because I would think that the people in those areas have better diets and get more exercise. Kate’s theory is that it could be higher due to pesticides. And that totally makes sense. But it makes me wonder why they don’t do more research on the subject. If that’s true, it goes beyond just ingesting something that’s ‘bad for you.’ That’s eating chemicals that could cause your children to have debilitating birth defects; in some cases even life threatening. Scary.
So I looked a little further. This is what I found:
“New research shows that babies conceived in the spring and early summer have a higher risk for a wide range of birth defects, including Down syndrome, cleft palate, and spina bifida.
The reported increase in birth defects was modest, but it coincided with a similar spike in groundwater pesticide levels during the spring-early summer planting season.
These findings suggest that pesticide exposure may influence birth outcomes nationwide, researchers say.
“There appears to be a season of conception in which the risk of having a child with a birth defect is higher,” Indiana University School of Medicine neonatology professor Paul D. Winchester, MD, tells WebMD.
“This study does not prove that pesticides cause birth defects, but we set out to show that they did not and we were not reassured.”” [WebMD.com]
Interested in reading what they found? Click here.
Detection during pregnancy:
“Neural tube defects can usually be detected during pregnancy by testing the mother’s blood (AFP screening) or a detailed fetal ultrasound. Increased levels of maternal serum alpha-fetoprotein (MSAFP) should be followed up by two tests – an ultrasound of the fetal spine and amniocentesis of the mother’s amniotic fluid (to test for alpha-fetoprotein and acetylcholinesterase). AFP tests are now mandated by some state laws.
“Genetic counseling and further genetic testing, such as amniocentesis, may be offered during the pregnancy, as some neural tube defects are associated with genetic disorders such as trisomy 18.”
“Ultrasound screening for spina bifida is partly responsible for the decline in new cases, because many pregnancies are terminated out of fear that a newborn might have a poor future quality of life. With modern medical care, the quality of life of patients has greatly improved.“
That part made me sad, because, personally, as a disabled person, I’m glad that I get the opportunity to live my life. I would rather live, disability or not, than not live my life because it might be more difficult. Also, having been recently pregnant, I know the tests detect the signs and possibility of defects, but only that, a possibility. The child could be just fine.
“If you are pregnant or could get pregnant, use the following tips to help prevent your baby from having spina bifida:
- Take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. If you already have had a pregnancy affected by spina bifida, talk with your doctor about a prescription to take 4,000 mcg (4.0 milligrams). Folic acid prevents most, but not all, cases of spina bifida.
- Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about any prescription and over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and dietary or herbal supplements you are taking.
- If you have a medical condition―such as diabetes or obesity―be sure it is under control before you become pregnant.
- Avoid overheating your body, as might happen if you use a hot tub or sauna.
- Treat any fever you have right away with Tylenol® (or store brand).”
Do you think pesticides cause SB and other birth defects? If you have SB, do you know the cause? Do you live in an area with a lot of farm land? Weigh in!