Why All Women Need Folic Acid

By JoLyn Seitz, MD Jun 06, 2017

If you are a woman of childbearing age who could become pregnant, regardless of whether or not you plan to, it’s important that you are getting an adequate amount of folic acid.

While folic acid supplementation has been actively promoted, a survey of American women revealed only 7 percent knew that folic acid should be taken before pregnancy to prevent birth defects. Folic acid supplementation is also important during pregnancy, particularly in the early months.

What is Folic Acid?

Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, which is a B vitamin naturally found in food. So essentially, folic acid is what you take in a supplement and folate is in the foods we eat. It is essential in helping prevent neural tube defects involving incomplete development of the brain and spinal cord. Neural tube defects include things such as spina bifida.

These birth defects can occur within the first 28 days after conception, a time when many women don’t even realize that are pregnant. Add to that the fact that 50 percent of pregnancies are unplanned and the need for supplementation is seen even more. For this reason, all pregnant women and all women who may become pregnant should take a daily vitamin supplement that contains the right amount of folic acid.

How Much Folic Acid Should You Take?

The recommendations for folic acid intake are 400 micrograms daily for at least one month before pregnancy, and continuing during pregnancy. To give your baby the best advantage, also consume foods high in folic acid – such as leafy green veggies like kale and spinach, orange juice and enriched grains.

Because folic acid plays such a large role in cell growth and tissue formation, the FDA has mandated that it be added to grain products. Boost your intake by looking for breakfast cereals, breads, pastas and rice that contain 100 percent of the recommended daily folic acid allowance. Most prenatal vitamins have the recommended amount of folic acid in them or a higher amount.

If you had a previous pregnancy with a child with a neural tube defect, or if you are on a seizure medication, it may be recommended you ingest a higher level of folic acid prior to pregnancy. You can ask your provider about this when planning for pregnancy.

It’s unlikely that you will be able to consume the recommended amount of folic acid in your foods so you should still take a folic acid supplement. Talk to your provider about the best type of supplementation for you.

 

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