Is dietary intake of methionine associated with a reduction in risk for neural tube defect-affected pregnancies?



Results from experimental animals and other laboratory data have suggested a role for methionine, an essential amino acid, in normal closure of the neural tube. We hypothesized that women who had higher dietary intakes of methionine would be at lower risk for neural tube defect (NTD)-affected pregnancies. Data were derived from a population-based case-control study of fetuses and liveborn infants with NTDs among a 1989–1991 California birth cohort. Interviews, which included a 100-item food frequency questionnaire, were conducted with mothers of 424 NTD cases and 440 nonmalformed controls. Risk for having an NTD-affected pregnancy was estimated according to quartiles (established from intakes among control mothers) of average daily maternal dietary intake of methionine in the 3 months before conception. We observed an approximately 30–40% reduction in NTD-affected pregnancies among women whose average daily dietary intake of methionine was above the lowest quartile of intake (>1,341.86 mg/day). These reductions in NTD risk were observed for both anencephaly and spina bifida; remained after adjustment for maternal race/ethnicity and education; and were observed irrespective of maternal level of folate intake. Although we were unable to establish whether the observed reductions in NTD risk were attributable to maternal periconceptional methionine intake or to another highly correlated nutrient, these data add to the growing body of evidence that maternal diet plays a role in neural tube closure. Teratology 56:295–299, 1997. © 1997 Wiley-Liss, Inc.