Taking folic acid supplements could reduce the risk of babies being born with heart defects, a new research suggests.
The findings are from a study in Canada where the government made fortification of flour and pasta products with folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, mandatory in 1998.
Researchers from McGill University in Montreal and the University of Alberta in Edmonton studied data relating to babies with congenital heart problems in Quebec in the years before and after the rule was enforced.
Of the 1.3m babies born in Quebec between 1990 and 2005, 2,083 had severe heart defects - an average prevalence of 1.57 per 1,000 births - according to the study published in the BMJ.
The scientists found that while there was no change in the prevalence of the condition in newborns before 1998, there was a 6% drop after it was made compulsory to fortify flour and pasta with the vitamin.
There is no similar rule in the UK at present but the Canadian findings are being analysed by experts.
Previous research has shown that folic acid supplements taken during early pregnancy help reduce the risk of neural defects such as spina bifida.