The Magic of Music


“Where words fail, music speaks,” wrote Danish author, Hans Christian Anderson and he was so right. Music is the universe’s official language where old and young share its beauty and complexity.

Alzheimer’s patients have been known to respond with joy and excitement when played their favorite music after being non-responsive to other stimulus.

Children jump in rhythm and clap their hands when they hear the sounds of instruments playing. Hundreds of YouTube videos show how quickly tears can turn to smiles and giggles as the first notes of Disney’s  “Let It Go” spring forth. 

Is there really anyone who isn’t deeply affected by music?

Research has shown that particpating in music benefits children when learning other subjects and offers kids a variety of skills they can use throughout their life. 

“A music-rich experience for children of singing, listening and moving is really bringing a very serious benefit to children as they progress into more formal learning,” says Mary Luehrisen, executive director of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation, a not-for-profit association that promotes the benefits of making music.

Can particpation in music make a child smarter? There’s a difference of opinion about that. However, it’s safe to say that it takes an assortment of specific skills to sing or play an instrument or do both simultaneously.

For instance, people use their ears and eyes, as well as large and small muscles, says Kenneth Guilmartin, cofounder of Music Together, an early childhood music development program for infants through kindergarteners that involves parents or caregivers in the classes.

“Music learning supports all learning. Not that Mozart makes you smarter, but it’s a very integrating, stimulating pastime or activity,” Guilmartin says.

Children have learned how to sing and speak in other languages by listening to cross-culture songs. I even picked up a little French from the Beatles’ “Michelle” when I was a child. “Michelle, ma belle, Sont les mots qui vont tres bien ensemble,Tres bien ensemble.”(These are words which go together well, together well.)

According to the Children’s Music Workshop, the effect of music education on language development can be seen in the brain. “Recent studies have clearly indicated that musical training physically develops the part of the left side of the brain known to be involved with processing language, and can actually wire the brain’s circuits in specific ways. Linking familiar songs to new information can also help imprint information on young minds,” the group claims.

Research indicates the brain of a musician, even a young one, works differently than that of a non-musician. “There’s some good neuroscience research that children involved in music have larger growth of neural activity than people not in music training. When you’re a musician and you’re playing an instrument, you have to be using more of your brain,” says Dr. Eric Rasmussen, chair of the Early Childhood Music Department at the Peabody Preparatory of The Johns Hopkins University, where he teaches a specialized music curriculum for children aged two months to nine years.

Playing music makes your brain work harder, but what about just listening to music? While some studies have noted that learning to play music can enhance your brain, listening to music just makes you feel good. But really, isn’t that wonderful too?

Music enriches your life. It’s captivating and has the power to make you smile or cry. Most of all, it’s universal.

Introducing children to music at a young age opens the door to new adventures. Whether it’s classical or hip-hop, country or rock, bluegrass or blues, jazz or Dixieland, African rhythms or Mongolian throat-singing; borders and politics may separate people, but nations and communities will share their music.

“There is a massive benefit from being musical that we don’t understand, but it’s individual. Music is for music’s sake,” Rasmussen says. “The benefit of music education for me is about being musical. It gives you have a better understanding of yourself. The horizons are higher when you are involved in music,” he adds. “Your understanding of art and the world, and how you can think and express yourself, are enhanced.”

Yes, music is the official language of the universe and a beautiful gift to share with our children.

Source: Laura Lewis Brown,


An Apple A Day Could Make You Sick


While having an apple a day is normally considered a healthy food choice, federal investigators have confirmed that there is a correlation between a California apple processing plant and a strain of listeria bacteria responsible for killing seven people and making more than 30 others very sick.

An earlier warning by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked consumers not to eat any pre-packaged, commercially produced caramel apples, including those with other toppings such as nuts, chocolate or sprinkles, until the source of the outbreak was pinpointed. Most of the people infected by listeria fell ill after eating pre-packaged apples.

Reuters reports that tests performed by Food and Drug Administration investigators on samples from the Bidart Bros. processing plant and apples the company supplied to retailers found a connection between the produce and two strains of Listeria monocytogenes responsible for the deadly listeria outbreak.

Bidart Bros., the company supplying the Granny Smith and Gala apples, has issued a voluntary recall of all shipments of the apples – caramel coated or not- still available in the marketplace. The last shipment was made on December 2.

The company advises that consumers should not eat the Granny Smith and Gala apples.  Affected apples can be sold under the brand names “Big B” and “Granny’s Best,” but could also be sold under other brand names or with no brand at all.

Consumers who are buying or have recently purchased Granny Smith or Gala apples should ask their retailers if Bidart Bros. supplied the apples, the company says.

Three other companies – Happy Apples, California Snack Foods and Merb’s Candies – have each announced recalls of commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples since news of the contamination began in late December.

Listeria is a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. The disease primarily affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns, and adults with weakened immune systems.

According to the Mayo clinic website, symptoms include fever, muscle aches, nausea and diarrhea.  If listeria spreads into the nervous system, symptoms may include headache, stiff neck, confusion or change on alertness, loss of balance and convulsions.

During pregnancy, a listeria infection is likely to cause only mild signs and symptoms in the mother. The consequences for the baby, however, may be devastating. The baby may die unexpectedly before birth or experience a life-threatening infection within the first few days after birth.

If you have consumed any food that has been recalled or connected with listeria, pay close attention to any possible signs or symptoms. If you experience any of the symptoms listed above – contact your doctor.

Sources: Victoria Cavaliere,

Ashlee Kieler,


Energy Drinks and Hyperactivity in Kids


A new study suggests that energy drinks may contribute to hyperactivity and inattention in middle-school students.

Researchers looked at 1,600 students in an urban school district in Connecticut where the average age was 12 years old. They found that children who drank energy drinks were 66 percent more likely to be at risk for hyperactivity and inattention symptoms, according to the study in the current issue of the journal Academic Pediatrics.

Not only did the drinks contain caffeine, a central nervous system stimulant, but were also packed with sugar. The study also took into account other sugar-sweetened drinks consumed by the students.

"As the total number of sugar-sweetened beverages increased, so too did risk for hyperactivity and inattention symptoms among our middle-school students. Importantly, it appears that energy drinks are driving this association," study leader Jeannette Ickovics, a professor in the School of Public Health, said in a Yale news release.

"Our results support the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that parents should limit consumption of sweetened beverages and that children should not consume any energy drinks," she added.

The students in this study drank an average of two sugary drinks a day. The number of daily sugary drinks ranged from none to as many as seven or more such drinks. Some sugar-sweetened beverages and energy drinks contain up to 40 grams of sugar each. Depending on how old they are, children should only have about 21 to 33 grams of sugar a day, according to the researchers.

On an average, boys tended to drink more energy drinks than girls.

Along with the hyperactivity and inattention in school, researchers were concerned about the risk of obesity for children that consume these types of drinks.

Lots of kids and even some parents confuse sports drinks and energy drinks – thinking that they are the same thing. They are not.

Energy drinks contain substances not found in sports drinks that act as stimulants, such as caffeine, guarana and taurine. Caffeine – by far the most popular stimulant – has been linked to a number of harmful health effects in children, including effects on the developing neurologic and cardiovascular systems.

As soda sales slip, energy drinks have increased nearly 7 percent creating a $9.7 billion dollar industry according to Bloomberg. Concerns have been raised that some energy drink manufacturers are marketing energy drinks directly at kids.

The American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) that deals specifically with children’s health issues, has emphatically stated that energy drinks are never appropriate for children or adolescents.

Sources: Robert Preidt,,-and-Rarely-Need-Sports-Drinks,-Says-AAP.aspx


New Year’s Resolutions for the Whole Family


For many people, the new year is symbolic for fresh beginnings or a clean slate. Resolutions are abundant as we reflect on where we are now and where we want to be. A new year can bring individual changes and family changes as well.

We not only benefit from New Year’s resolutions; our children can also learn a lot about self-discipline and the value of making goals.

Start by making New Year’s resolutions a family tradition. Sit down each December and reflect on the past year, discussing your accomplishments and goals, as individuals and as a family. In your resolution conversation you can each talk about what worked this year and what didn’t.

Dr. Benjamin Siegel, professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, suggests saying, “Each one of us is going to state a few things that we want to continue to do and things we’d like to change that would make us feel better about ourselves and how our family works.”

Everybody gets a chance to weigh in. Everyone gets a turn at sharing something they are proud of and something they want to improve about themselves. Parents can go first- setting the tone for the rest of the family. One way to express feelings is to write down your thoughts. If your children are old enough to write, have them write about their accomplishments and goals. If your child is too young to write or just beginning, you can help them out by writing what they want to say.

One option is to save the writings and next year you can pull them out and talk about them before making new resolutions. Your family can also use them as a guide throughout the year. 

Try to limit the resolutions to those that are do-able. It’s easy to get swept up in the possibilities of out lives- make sure that for the next year, you keep it simple- one step at a time. One hundred resolutions are way too many for anyone to tackle!

You can make a master list to hang in a public spot, like a bulletin board in the kitchen. Dr. Kathleen Clarke-Pearson, a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, suggests making a resolution box, in which each family member can drop in his or her resolutions, then pull them out at a later date to review them.

Each family member is a different personality and age. For younger children, something as simple as spending 15 minutes cleaning their room is an achievement. As younger children age, they can be more active in coming up with goals, which will mean more to them as they are achieved.

For preschool-aged children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends resolutions that focus on cleaning up toys, brushing teeth and washing hands and being kind to pets. However, parents who consider these behaviors part of their regular expectations may want to provide resolutions that focus on higher goals.

Clarke-Pearson suggests preschoolers be encouraged to work on listening and helping skills. A resolution could be “I will be a better listener when Mommy or Daddy asks me to do something” or “I will help out more when Mommy or Daddy asks me.” If you keep it simple, your child is more likely to understand the concept as well as succeed.

Of course, the best way to help your children learn the value of achieving goals is to be a good example. Just as with everything else you do, your child is watching. “Parents should be reflective about how they wish to be in the coming year,” Siegel says. “It’s a good opportunity to promote good mental and physical health.”

When the time comes to review resolutions, make sure it’s a positive experience. This is not the time for punishment. It’s important to be flexible and understanding, especially if the child is making the effort. “You don’t penalize if you don’t fulfill a resolution,” Clarke-Pearson says. “The resolution is not written in stone. It’s a guide.”

However your family arrives at resolutions, the best part is that you’re doing it together and learning how to manage your role not only in the family but also in the larger world.

Source: Laura Lewis Brown,


When Are Kids Ready For Chores?


The Merriam-Webster definition of the word “chore” is: A small job done regularly, or a dull, unpleasant, or difficult job or experience. I’d have to agree that household chores are oftentimes both. Whether we like them or not – someone has to do them.

Many parents end up doing all the chores around the house because it’s easier than trying to get their children to pitch in and help. By the time you explain to a child what needs to be done and how to do it- you could be finished with all the chores instead of just one.

While that may be appealing from a time management perspective, it doesn’t prepare children to be responsible adults. Self-reliance becomes more of a realistic goal for children when parents are willing to put the work into teaching them simple chores when they are young and expecting more when they are older.

Speaking of realistic, let’s not get all dreamy-eyed with visions of our little ones cheerfully picking up their toys and putting them away or making their beds before rushing off to school (at first.) But don’t despair; there are a few “tricks” that can make this experience a little easier.

Parenting expert Jim Fay, co-founder of the Love and Logic website, says we all need to feel needed and to know that we're making a contribution -- even kids. "But they can't feel that way if they don't have chores and make contributions to the family," Fay says.

Roger W. McIntire, University of Maryland psychology professor and author of Raising Good Kids in Tough Times, says, "A child has to have some responsibilities."

That’s all well and good – but how do you get your kids onboard?

Let’s start at the beginning with traps that can sabotage your progress:

Perfection: It’s not attainable – don’t expect it. Perfection is in the eye of the beholder. What looks perfect to me may look like a mess to you.  If you want your children committed to doing their chores, a much more relaxed attitude will win them over. Parents that expect perfection typically give up on the teaching aspect, jump in and do the chore themselves. It’s really more of a reflection of the parent than the child’s ability to learn. So breathe, relax and know that it’s going to take time.

Criticism: Criticizing your child’s accomplishment goes hand in hand with expecting perfection. Too often parents focus on what wasn’t done instead of what was done. Don’t be stingy with praise for trying. Encourage your child while the chore is in progress. You want to build positive momentum, especially with young kids.

Inconsistency: You can’t expect your child to learn and want to participate if you’re not dedicated to and enthusiastic about the outcome. Being consistent in what you expect and when you expect it completed helps your child understand their responsibilities in the household. When parents give up, so do their kids. And guess who ends up doing all the chores?

So, we’ve established some pitfalls to avoid… what next?

The “Chores Chart” makes organization easier and tasks clear. 

"Create a list of every job it takes to keep a family going," Fay says. Have kids pick out the chores they'd most like to do. Then create a chart.

First, check that everyone has an age-appropriate chore. Then divide the chart into three columns. One is for the list of chores and whose chore it is; another is for deadlines; the last one is for making a check mark when the chore is done. Put the chart where everyone can see it and let everyone follow through on their own assignments.

Weekends may provide a bit more time to get some of the extra chores done such as laundry, mowing the grass, cleaning the car etc. You can create a “Weekend” chart separate from the daily chores. It may change from weekend to weekend depending on what needs to be done and who is available.

Should you pay your kids to do their chores? Ah, the age old question. There are lots of opinions on this one. You’ll have to decide whether a financial incentive pays off in your family. Some things to consider are, do you believe chores should be more about responsibility and learning household tasks without a monetary reward? Or is learning how to manage money considered a “household task” that needs to be accomplished?

Small children may be less motivated by an allowance and more motivated by positive attention. Older kids may like the idea of earning money that they can spend however they want. You might want to have a list of “extras” that are offered for an allowance.

At what age are children ready to start doing chores? It’s probably younger than you think.

In general, Pantley says, preschoolers can handle one or two simple one-step or two-step jobs. Older children can manage more. Here are her pointers on kids' chores by age:

Chores for children ages 2 to 3:

·      Put toys away

·      Fill pet's food dish

·      Put clothes in hamper

·      Wipe up spills

·      Dust

·      Pile books and magazines

Chores for children ages 4 to 5:

Any of the above chores, plus:

·      Make their bed

·      Empty wastebaskets

·      Bring in mail or newspaper

·      Clear table

·      Pull weeds, if you have a garden

·      Use hand-held vacuum to pick up crumbs

·      Water flowers

·      Unload utensils from dishwasher

·      Wash plastic dishes at sink

·      Fix bowl of cereal

Chores for children ages 6 to 7:

Any of the above chores, plus:

·      Sort laundry

·      Sweep floors

·      Set and clear table

·      Help make and pack lunch

·      Weed and rake leaves

·      Keep bedroom tidy

Chores for children ages 8 to 9:

Any of the above chores, plus:

·      Load dishwasher

·      Put away groceries

·      Vacuum

·      Help make dinner

·      Make own snacks

·      Wash table after meals

·      Put away own laundry

·      Sew buttons

·      Make own breakfast

·      Peel vegetables

·      Cook simple foods, such as toast

·      Mop floor

·      Take pet for a walk

Chores for children ages 10 and older:

Any of the above chores, plus:

·      Unload dishwasher

·      Fold laundry

·      Clean bathroom

·      Wash windows

·      Wash car

·      Cook simple meal with supervision

·      Iron clothes

·      Do laundry

·      Baby-sit younger siblings (with adult in the home)

·      Clean kitchen

·      Change their bed sheets

From this list, you can see there are a variety of chores that a child can help with or learn to do.  As I go through each one, I think about how many of these tasks I could do when I was ready to head off into the world as a young adult. Who knew you could actually do your own laundry?

Source: Annie Stuart, Roy Benaroch, MD,


Parental Suicide Attempts Linked to Increase Risks in Kids


Currently, there’s a recharged debate on whether suicide should ever be considered an acceptable option for someone. Some people say that it is never acceptable. Others believe that there are times when suicide is a valid option depending on the circumstances of the person’s life.

Whatever your personal belief, suicide happens; and when it does it often leaves a messy trail of depression and heartbroken sadness with those left behind.

Studies have shown that suicide can run in families, but few studies have looked at the pathways by which suicidal behavior is transmitted in families.  Those studies suggest that families, who have a history of mood disorders such as clinical depression and bipolar disorder, have an increase in suicide attempts and suicide.

A new study looked at what other factors could also be instrumental in family-related suicide attempts. It found that a suicide attempt by a parent increases the odds nearly 5-fold that a child of that parent will also attempt to take their own life.

But exactly why that happens still needs more exploration say researchers involved in the latest study.

"What that really means is that there is still part of this (family) transmission that we haven't figured out," said Dr. David Brent, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Brent and a team of coauthors followed the children of parents with mood disorders for nearly six years.  The study included 701 offspring  (ages 10 to 50) of 334 people with mood disorders, 191 of whom had also made a suicide attempt.

Researchers found that of the 701 children, 44 (6.3 percent) had attempted suicide before the study and 29 (4.1 percent) attempted suicide during the study follow-up.

Brent and his colleagues write in JAMA Psychiatry that parental history of a suicide attempt conveys a nearly five-fold increased odd of suicide attempt in children at risk for mood disorder, even after adjusting for the familial transmission of mood disorder.

The good news, according to Brent, is that there are treatments for mood disorders and impulsive aggression that may help some people.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 million American adults report having made a suicide attempt within the last year.

The CDC also says that among young people ages 15 to 24, there are 100 to 200 suicide attempts for every one completed suicide.

Brent said that the children of people with a history of suicide attempts should not be excessively concerned about the study's finding of increased risk to them. "It's still extremely rare," he said.

"I think it's just a wakeup call," Brent said. "Just like if you have a family history of breast cancer or colon cancer. You'd be vigilant of that."

Children’s suicide attempts and suicide are always a serious matter. These days there are a variety of reasons why adolescents and young adults consider suicide; everything from being bullied to losing a first love. This research specifically looks at children that have mood disorders and suicide attempts within the core family.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), more than 90% of people who take their own lives have an underlying mental disorder at the time of their death. Many times, that disorder was never identified.

The disorders most often associated with suicide are depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Substance abuse, either on its own or in combination with another mental disorder, can also be a factor when someone takes their own life.

Their website,, and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline,, both offer excellent background articles and resources for families who are experiencing this situation.

Sources: Andrew M. Seaman,


Norovirus Prevention: Tips for Swimming in Untreated Waters


With summer around the corner, lots of families will be headed to the lake for picnics, fishing and swimming. And not to rain on anyone’s parade, but every parent should be aware that the Norovirus loves untreated waters just as much as you and the kids do.

What is Norovirus? Noroviruses are a group of viruses that cause inflammation of the stomach and large intestine lining. They are the leading cause of gastroenteritis in the U.S.; In other words, severe vomiting and diarrhea.

Noroviruses are the same viruses that give you food poisoning – but they can also be active in waters that are untreated with chlorine such as lakes and ponds.

A norovirus outbreak in July 2014 was linked to a lake near Portland Oregon, and sickened 70 people. Those who swam in the lake were 2.3 times more likely to develop vomiting or diarrhea than those who visited the park but didn’t go in the water. More than half of those who got ill were children between 4–10 years old.

Experts believe the outbreak began after a swimmer infected with norovirus had diarrhea or vomited in the water and other swimmers swallowed the contaminated water. To prevent other people from getting sick, park officials closed the lake to swimmers for 10 days.

“Children are prime targets for norovirus and other germs that can live in lakes and swimming pools because they’re so much more likely to get the water in their mouths,” said Michael Beach, Ph.D, CDC’s associate director for healthy water. “Keeping germs out of the water in the first place is key to keeping everyone healthy and helping to keep the places we swim open all summer.”

Swimmers can help protect themselves, their families and friends by following a few easy and effective steps: 

Keep the pee, poop, sweat, and dirt out of the water!

•       Don’t swim if you have diarrhea or have been vomiting

•       Shower before you get in the water

•       Don’t pee or poop in the water

•       Don’t swallow lake or pool water

Every hour—everyone out!

•       Take kids on bathroom breaks

•       Check diapers, and change them in a bathroom or diaper-changing area–to keep germs away from the water.

Noroviruses, like other viruses, don't respond to antibiotics, which are designed to kill bacteria. No antiviral drug can treat noroviruses, but in healthy people the illness should go away on its own within a couple of days.

Children and the elderly are most susceptible to dehydration. Children should be given an oral rehydration solution (such as Pedialyte) to replace lost fluids and electrolytes. Avoid giving your child sugary drinks, which can make diarrhea worse, as well as caffeinated beverages, which can dehydrate them further.

Norovirus is very contagious and can be spread through contaminated food, water, or surfaces.

Summer is a time when families have more opportunities to have fun and spend time together. You can help make sure your picnic or day at the lake doesn’t include the side effects from a norovirus by adhering to the health safety prevention tips listed above.



Be Kind, Give Thanks


In the spirit of this holiday season and throughout the year, I shall try and follow the example of Perri Brackett. Who is Perri Brackett? She’s a Dallas Morning News Community Voices volunteer columnist that wrote a wonderfully thought-provoking column the other day on losing patience and finding kindness.

The act that changed her perspective happened last December. She was shopping at Sprouts and had two coupons for free products. I’ll let her tell you what happened next.

“ I got to the checkout, and I pulled out my coupons. The checker was first confused with the “free product” on the coupon. She did her job and read the fine print. At this point, I started getting frustrated. Why couldn’t she just take the coupons that I knew were good?

She then decided to scan the coupons, and they didn’t work. My impatience was rearing its ugly head as she called over a manager to help. And what did I do? I grabbed the coupons, paid my bill and stormed out. Nothing free that day.”

I can’t even begin to count the times that I’ve let myself get frustrated in a line or with the person checking me out, so I understand how quickly it can happen.

However, I don’t usually take the follow-up action Ms. Brackett took.

She went home, sat down and wrote a letter of apology to the checker.  She returned to the store the next day, but the checker was off. She gave the letter to the manager and apologized for her behavior. He remembered her from the day before. After hearing her out, he hugged her and said in all his years of managing, this was the first time a customer had apologized for being rude.

I’ll let her pick it up from here: “I decided right then and there, I was going to be nicer to people I didn’t know who were trying to help me. Have you noticed yourself being just flat-out nasty to people who are trying to help you? Losing patience? If so, try being nice to people; you’ll be happier.

I now thank the checkers for their help each and every time I check out from a store. I’ve even started thanking the janitor in the women’s bathroom, if I see one. That’s an interesting one — do that and watch their face light up. Talk about a thankless job that isn’t easy that people do with pride.” Brackett wrote.

I’ve found that being patient with people feels much better than feeling frustrated or angry with them. Having said that, I admit that there have been too many times when I’ve lost my patience with someone.  Granted, not every sales person or checker is helpful or nice to me. Sometimes, my anger may even be considered justified.

But you know what? Kicking a hornet’s nest doesn’t help any situation. There’s enough anger and ugly actions taking place these days without my contribution.

Which brings me to setting an example for our kids. Children seldom pay as much attention to what we say as we think they should, but they watch what we do. They learn how to respond to situations by watching how we respond.

As the classic Crosby, Stills and Nash song says, “Teach your children well”, by showing them that love, kindness and patience are the most positive ways to respond when life’s irritations creep up and get under our skin.

Particularly during this time of year, there are lots of opportunities to be a good example. As Bracket so eloquently writes at the end of her article; “As the year winds down and shopping season speeds up, it might be a nice time to remember to take a deep breath and thank someone for their help. It might become a habit.”

While Thanksgiving is a special day that rolls around once a year, giving thanks and being kind are actions we can take every singe day.  

Source: Perri Brackett,


Flour with Added Folic Acid Is Reducing Birth Defects


Folic acid is a B vitamin that is known to help prevent certain types of birth defects in newborns. In January 1998, the FDA added a requirement that folic acid be added to breads, cereals, and other products that use enriched flour. These fortified foods include most enriched breads, flours, corn meals, rice, noodles, macaroni, and other grain products.

Since then, a new report shows that serious birth defects have fallen 35 percent. While that is certainly wonderful news, a 2014 study found that as many as 25 percent of American women are still not receiving even the minimum amount of recommended folic acid from either their diet or through supplements.

Women who don't get enough folic acid have an elevated risk of giving birth to a child with conditions called neural tube defects, the best known of which is spina bifida, which often causes paralysis.

Health experts began recommending that women of childbearing age take folic acid in 1992 because studies showed that taking 400 micrograms a day could reduce spina bifida and related birth defects by up to 70%.

Doctors now recommend that women who are considering having children start taking folic acid before trying to get pregnant. Since some pregnancies are not necessarily planned, many doctors recommend that women of childbearing age take a daily multivitamin that contains folic acid.

The benefits of folic acid have been researched for quite some time and since food producers began adding folic acid to grains, that simple step has prevented more than 1,300 babies a year from being born with spina bifida or related conditions, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Authors of the new study found that Hispanic women are more likely to have a baby with spina bifida or a similar birth defect.

That's partly because the "masa harina" corn flour used in tortillas and other Hispanic foods isn't fortified with folic acid, the study says. The March of Dimes has petitioned the FDA to require that folic acid be added to corn flour. Adding folic acid to corn flour would prevent another 40 cases of spina bifida or related conditions each year, the report says.

"Even with fortification, there will be some women that do not get the recommended amount of folic acid every day," says Candice Burns Hoffmann, of the CDC's National Centers for Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. "We still have more work to do."

If you’re considering having a baby, talk to your doctor before becoming pregnant about the benefits of folic acid and how much you may need.

Sources: Liz Szabo,


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