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High levels of the B vitamin folate (folic acid) may prevent heart birth defects induced by alcohol exposure in early pregnancy, a condition known as fetal alcohol syndrome.
Research on animals at the University of South Florida College of Medicine and All Children’s Hospital shows that folate taken early in pregnancy and before alcohol exposure could protect fetuses from these heart problems.
“Congenital heart defects can occur in the developing embryo at a time when women typically do not even know they are pregnant — 16 to 18 days following conception. They may have been drinking alcohol or using prescription drugs without realizing this could be affecting embryonic development,” says principal investigator Kersti Linask, Ph.D.
The heart is the first organ that forms and functions during fetal development. The researchers believe that folate supplementation may stymie alcohol’s damaging effects on an important early signaling pathway that plays a vital role in early heart development and in heart valve formation.