Adequate levels of folic acid can prevent certain types of neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Learn the importance of folic acid for pregnancy.
Folic acid is a critically important B vitamin. Everybody uses folic acid to create new cells in their bodies. Folic acid is used when creating new DNA, a building block of genetic material. Current dietary recommendations for adults are 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid per day. Many prepared foods such as cereals, pastas, and breads are fortified with folic acid to help everyone consume enough folic acid in their diets. You can also get more folic acid in your diet by eating asparagus, beets, leafy green vegetables, oranges, and dried beans, peas, and lentils. However, even with a healthy diet, it can be difficult to get the recommended amount of folic acid from food alone.
Folic acid for pregnancy
During the earliest stages of pregnancy, embryonic and placental cells are rapidly dividing, and thus folic acid becomes very important. Before many women even know they are pregnant, folic acid is already supporting proper brain and spinal cord development. Having adequate levels of folic acid before getting pregnant and in early pregnancy can prevent certain types of neural tube defects (NTDs) − serious birth defects of the spinal cord and brain – such as spina bifida and anencephaly.
In the United States, approximately 3,000 pregnancies per year are affected by neural tube defects. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 70% of these NTDs are preventable with early and adequate folic acid supplementation. At least one month prior to becoming pregnant, every woman should take a multivitamin containing 400 mcg of folic acid. During pregnancy, 400 to 600 mcg of folic acid are recommended. Some women may be higher risk based on their family or medical history and may require even higher doses of folic acid, so be sure to talk to your doctor about how much folic acid you need.
A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that most U.S. women do not have enough folic acid stored in their bodies. To prepare for a healthy pregnancy, start increasing your daily folic acid intake now by eating a healthy diet and by taking a Women’s Daily or Prenatal Vitamin.