New research from the University Manchester and Lancaster University suggests that hydrocephalus, a common brain birth defect, could be prevented by a combination of vitamins, tetrahydrofolate and folinic acid. Hydrocephalus affects around one out of every thousand live births in the US. In developing countries, this risk rises to one out of every one hundred births.
“Hydrocephalus is a condition arising from an abnormal build-up of fluid within the chambers of the brain. This fluid build-up – usually caused by a blockage in the fluid’s pathway due to trauma, infection or abnormal development – is associated with an increase in the pressure on the brain resulting in brain damage. When this happens, doctors can relieve this pressure only by performing surgery," said Dr Jaleel Miyan, lead researcher on the project. “Our studies have revealed that hydrocephalus is associated with a change in the composition of the cerebrospinal fluid and it is this chemical change that prevents normal growth of the brain cells resulting in arrested brain development. This occurs prior to any brain damage due to raised pressure.”
In the Western world, hydrocephalus has been reduced to the range of 1:2000 – 1:5000 due to terminations, but this control measure may be rendered unnecessary if vitamin treatment succeeds. Administering the combination vitamins has dramatically reduced the risk of hydrocephalus in clinical trials, and so their is much hope that this method will have continued success in further evaluation.
This study was funded by the ASBAH, the Association of Spina Bifida & Hydrocephalus, and its findings were published in the Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology. “A combination of tetrahydrofolate and folinic acid – both naturally occurring substances – stimulated brain cell growth and had a significant positive effect on brain development in laboratory experiments on rats and reduced the incidence of hydrocephalus," explained Dr Miyan. “In laboratory experiments, the combined folate supplement works at any stage during pregnancy which means that it may be effective even if it is commenced after the diagnosis of hydrocephalus is made at an 18 to 20 week pregnancy scan. We believe that the combination folate supplement could be given to a woman whose fetus had been scanned and shown to have hydrocephalus, to improve brain development and perhaps rescue the child from hydrocephalus. We have yet to carry out experimental studies in the laboratory to test whether treatment at later stages of development, including after birth, would lead to improvement in the condition."
This sounds extraordinary, and the researchers' enthusiasm is very encouraging. This is the first work suggesting that cerebrospinal fluid is not just a cushioning liquid around the brain, but that it is actively produced and transported, playing a key role in brain development.
Andrew Russell, ASBAH Chief Executive, said: “Hydrocephalus can cause severe disability and learning difficulties, so the possibility of prevention through a specific vitamin supplement is exciting. ASBAH is helping with this ground-breaking research because many babies born with hydrocephalus today survive, but with a lifelong disability.”
Folates and folic acid are intentionally added in to many grain products so that pregnant woman will be ensured to receive and adequate amount to prevent nerual tube defects such as spina bifida. These new research findings into folate combination vitamins could potentially provide the desired effects even after the beginnings of hydrocephalus, which would be a great step forward in treating and managing birth defects.
For more on this story and folates in general, please follow the links below:
BBC: 'Vitamin' for baby brain disorder
Physorg.com: Birth brain defect could be treated with vitamin supplement