Folic acid supplements alone may not be the optimum way to prevent neural tube defects in babies, according to doctors in the U.K.
Most countries advise pregnant women — and those planning to become pregnant — to take extra folic acid to prevent conditions such as spina bifida in their newborns.
However, some women who do so still go on to give birth to children with neural tube defects, and experts at the Institute of Child Health in London have suggested that better protection might be provided if women took the vitamin inositol together with folic acid.
Results from recent tests on mice suggest that inositol, which is found naturally in meat, fruit and vegetables, stimulates tissue growth in the embryo to prevent neural tube defects.
Nick Greene, a researcher at the Institute, told the BBC: "We don't think the women are deficient in inositol in their diets but from our experimental work we know inositol can stimulate cells in the developing embryo to proliferate more quickly, and that corrects the defect that would develop in spina bifida."
Greene and his colleagues are now looking for women to take part in a human trial, conducted by telephone and email, to establish whether a daily pill containing both folic acid and inositol really does provide pregnant women and their unborn babies with more protection than folic acid alone.
"We've invited women who've had a pregnancy affected by spina bifida or another neural tube defect and who are planning another pregnancy to contact us," he said.