MOTHERS who take folic acid (FA) supplements in the period leading up to pregnancy can reduce the risk of their baby developing a brain tumour during childhood by almost half.
This is the result of a five year study by the Australian Childhood Brain Tumour Consortium (Aus-CBT), led by Professor Elizabeth Milne at WA’s Telethon Institute for Child Health Research.
Published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, the study stands out as the largest and most comprehensive national research performed so far on this topic.
“We were specifically targeting FA-intake following on from a similar national study on childhood leukaemia and building on the local finding that taking FA can reduce its risk,” Dr Milne says.
Previous reports on the protective effects of multivitamin use on CBT development were not able to pinpoint the most active constituent in the mix.
Aus-CBT has been the first to separate out multivitamin effects and investigate the link between the intake of FA alone, or combined with iron, vitamin A, B6, B12 or C and its connection with diagnosis of CBT in offspring.
“Indeed it was FA that appeared to be responsible for a [negative diagnosis] association, but it does not harm if it is taken in combination with other micronutrients,” she says.
Little is known about the risk factors for CBT and rare causes like brain irradiation and genetics account for very few cases.
“So we set out to look at a wide range of nutritional factors, environment exposures and genetic influences and how they might interact.”
“In the same way as neural tube defects are prevented to a large extend by FA supplementation, here, it also by far outweighs its intake from a dietary source.”
Folate is required for reliable DNA synthesis and repair and Dr Milne says, “there are lots of points where a folate deficiency can lead to malignant cell transformation and disease.”
Among other potential causes, folate deficiency is now thought to be a contributing factor to CBT development.
The distinct timing of effective FA intake before rather then after conception points towards the importance of healthy germ cells to produce a healthy embryo.
“The message to those planning a pregnancy is supportive of taking FA supplementation.”
“The advice is not new; it already stands for the prevention of neural tube defects and it may well be that there are added benefits for CBT.”