Has folic acid helped reduce birth defects? Yes, says a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After the United States began adding folic acid to certain foods in 1998, the number of fetuses developing certain birth defects dropped by 26 percent (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 2004, vol. 53, no. 17). Incidences of both spina bifida (deformation of the spine) and anencephaly (congenital absence of part of the brain and spinal cord) have declined significantly since the FDA mandated the fortification of enriched breads, pastas, and other cereal grains with folic acid, also known as B9 or folate. Women of childbearing age should consume at least 400 mcg of folic acid a day (some physicians recommend as much as 800 mcg daily) in addition to maintaining a healthy diet.