Why Should I Boost My Folic Acid Intake?

Your doctor or gynecologist may have mentioned that it is a good idea to take a prenatal vitamin containing folic acid, but do you know why? 

What is folic acid?

Folic acid is the synthetic form of the B vitamin folate.  It is commonly found in supplements and added to fortified foods such as many cereals and breads.  Folate is the universal term that is used for both the naturally occurring folate found in foods and its synthetic form: folic acid.  

Folate helps your tissues grow and your cells work, so is immensely good for you.  While it is a great idea to fill your diet with this B vitamin, the fact remains that most people do not.  The average American diet is severely deficient in this nutrient, and this is a good indication that you also may not be getting enough. So, the next best way to boost your intake is with a multivitamin or a folic acid supplement. 

What does folic acid have to do with pregnancy?

If your doctor or gynecologist recommended a prenatal vitamin with folic acid, it is likely because the presence of this vitamin in a woman’s body during conception can reduce her risk of carrying a baby with a neural tube defect, such as spina bifida, by as much as 70 per cent. Unfortunately, getting enough folic acid does not guarantee that a neural tube defect will be avoided, but with such a significant reduction, it simply makes sense to take this precaution. 

How much folic acid do I need?

If you are healthy, before you conceive, you should take 400 mcg of folic acid daily.  If you have spina bifida or have had a child with spina bifida, your doctor may recommend taking as much as 4,000 mcg daily. This quantity is only available through prescription, so if you are at high risk, it is important to carefully plan your pregnancies. 

When should I start taking folic acid?

As soon as you are of childbearing age and are sexually active, it is a good idea to start taking a multivitamin with folic acid. Some pregnancies are accidental, but you may still be able to prevent this harmful condition by doing something as simple as taking a vitamin.  

What is spina bifida?

Literally, spina bifida means “split spine.” It occurs when the baby’s spinal column does not close all the way. Every day, about eight babies are born in the United States with this, or a similar, condition. Spina bifida is the most common permanently disabling birth defect in the United States. Spina bifida can sometimes be treated with surgery to prevent more severe damage, but it cannot be cured. Children born with this neural tube defect may have problems walking and getting around or going to the bathroom. They may be obese, suffer from gastrointestinal disorders, learning disabilities and/or depression. 

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