Hispanic Heritage

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Health news for expecting Hispanic mothers

Doctors are urging pregnant Hispanic women to be more aware of the potential birth defects that affect children of Hispanic mothers in seemingly higher rates than other ethnicities.

According to a major finding in a report released by the March of Dimes, babies born to Hispanic mothers have a higher risk of developing defects of the brain and spine known as "neural tube defects." Neural tube defects, or NTDs, are some of the most common birth defects, affecting more than 300,000 births across the globe each year. An NTD happens when an opening in the spinal cord or brain occurs early during human fetal development, according to the National Institutes of Health. Spina bifida is one of the more common NTDs.

When accounting for the higher rates of NTDs among Hispanic pregnancies, researchers surmised diet could play a large factor. In 1996, the United States Food and Drug Administration published regulations requiring the addition of folic acid to enriched breads, cereals, flour, and other grain products. Adequate folate intake is essential for proper operation of the neurulation process. However, Hispanics tend to eat a lot of corn masa flour. The flour is often not enriched with essential vitamins and minerals, such as folic acid. Furthermore, researchers found Hispanic women also are less likely to take multivitamins during pregnancy, which could affect the baby's risk of birth defects.

The March of Dimes is working toward having cornmeal fortified with folate. Until this becomes the standard, health officials advise Hispanic women to be aware of their health and the health of their babies. Supplementing diets with foods rich in folic acid is vital for pregnant women or women planning to become pregnant. Fetal neurological development begins early on -- sometimes before a woman even learns she is pregnant. Here are some foods rich in folate:

* dark, leafy greens

* asparagus

* broccoli

* citrus fruits

* legumes

* avocado

* cauliflower

* beets

* carrots

In addition, pregnant women can consume fortified grains and take multivitamins that contain the recommended levels of folic acid.