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Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Nov;78(5):972-8.

Neural tube defects associated with maternal periconceptional dietary intake of simple sugars and glycemic index.

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  • 1March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, California Birth Defects Monitoring Program, Berkeley, CA 94710, USA.



Maternal diabetes, prepregnancy obesity, hyperinsulinemia, and intakes of sweets have been associated with increased risks of neural tube defects (NTDs). The interdependence of these factors suggests a common pathogenesis via altered glycemic control and insulin demand.


We investigated whether maternal periconceptional dietary intakes of sucrose, glucose, fructose, and foods with higher glycemic index values influence the risk of having NTD-affected pregnancies.


In a population-based case-control study, all hospitals in 55 of the 58 counties in California participated. In-person interviews were conducted with the mothers of 454 NTD cases (including fetuses and infants who were electively terminated, stillborn, or born alive) and with the mothers of 462 nonmalformed controls within an average of 5 mo from the term delivery date. The risk of having an NTD-affected pregnancy was the main outcome measure.


Risks of having an NTD-affected pregnancy were not substantially elevated in relation to periconceptional intakes of glucose or fructose. Elevated risks of approximately 2-fold were observed for higher intakes of sucrose and foods with higher glycemic index values. Elevated risks were observed for high sucrose intake irrespective of whether adjustment was made for other covariates such as maternal folic acid intake. For higher glycemic index values, adjusted elevated risks of > or = 4-fold were observed in women whose body mass index (in kg/m(2)) was > 29.


Our observed associations support observations that potential problems in glucose control are associated with NTD risk even among nondiabetic women.

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