4 Apr 2014

Folic Acid


Folic acid, sometimes called folate, is a B vitamin (B9) found mostly in leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach, orange juice, and enriched grains. 

Many studies have 
shown that women who get 400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) daily prior to conception and during early pregnancy reduce the risk that their baby will be born with a serious 
neural tube defect (a birth defect involving incomplete development of the brain and spinal cord) by up to 70%.

Folic acid is a B vitamin. It is used in our bodies to make new cells. If a woman has enough folic acid in her body before she is pregnant, it can help prevent major birth
defects of her baby’s brain and spine. These birth defects are called neural tube defects or NTDs. Women who are planning a pregnancy should begin taking a multi-vitamin
with folic acid at least three months before getting pregnant. However, since about half of all pregnancies are unplanned it is important that all women of childbearing years
take a multi-vitamin with folic acid every day whether they plan to get pregnant or not. Studies show that taking the B vitamin folic acid before pregnancy decreases the risk
of having a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect (NTD) by at least 50 percent. The two most common NTD’s are spina bifida and anencephaly. NTD’s happen early in
pregnancy, 15 to 30 days after conception, before a women even knows she is pregnant. Public health professionals recommend that all women between 15 and 44 years of  age get 400 micrograms (400 mcg or 0.4 mg) of folic acid each day, either through a supplement or vitamin, or through foods enriched with this essential nutrient. Certain
breakfast cereals are now fortified with synthetic folic acid, as are several grains and pastas. Most over-the-counter multi-vitamins contain the necessary amount of folic acid.

Women, and men, are also encouraged to eat foods rich in folate, the type of folic acid found in foods, in addition to taking a multivitamin with folic acid every day. Foods
rich in folate include green leafy vegetables, orange juice, and beans. Studies show that folic acid may do more than just prevent certain birth defect. It may also prevent
certain cancers, heart disease and Alzheimer's disease.

The most common neural tube defects are:
-spina bifida, an incomplete closure of the spinal cord and spinal column
-anencephaly, severe underdevelopment of the brain
-encephalocele, when brain tissue protrudes out to the skin from an abnormal opening in the skull
-All of these defects occur during the first 28 days of pregnancy (usually before a woman even knows she's pregnant)

That's why it's so important for all women of childbearing age to get enough folic acid not just those who are planning to become pregnant. Only 50% of pregnancies are 
planned, so any woman who could become pregnant should make sure she's getting enough folic acid. Doctors and scientists still aren't completely sure why folic acid has 
such a profound effect on the prevention of neural tube defects, but they do know that this vitamin is crucial in the development of DNA. As a result, folic acid plays a large 
role in cell growth and development, as well as tissue formation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all women of childbearing age and especially those who are planning a pregnancy consume about 
400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) of folic acid every day. Adequate folic acid intake is very important before conception and at least 3 months afterward to potentially reduce 
the risk of having a fetus with a neural tube defect. So, how can you make sure you're getting enough folic acid? In 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandated 
that folic acid be added to enriched grain products so you can boost your intake by looking for breakfast cereals, breads, pastas, and rice containing 100% of the 
recommended daily folic acid allowance.But for most women, eating fortified foods isn't enough. To reach the recommended daily level, you'll probably need a vitamin 
supplement. During pregnancy, you require more of all of the essential nutrients than you did before you became pregnant. Although prenatal vitamins shouldn't replace a 
well-balanced diet, taking them can give your body and, therefore, your baby an added boost of vitamins and minerals. Some health care providers even recommend taking a 
folic acid supplement in addition to your regular prenatal vitamin. 

Talk to your doctor about your daily folic acid intake and ask whether he or she recommends a prescription 
supplement, an over-the-counter brand, or both. Also talk to your doctor if you've already had a pregnancy that was affected by a neural tube defect. He or she may 
recommend that you increase your daily intake of folic acid (even before getting pregnant) to lower your risk of having another occurrence.
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