Folic Acid Facts
Folic acid is a man-made substance and is a form of a B vitamin called folate. Folate is important for red blood cell production in the body, and it helps a baby’s neural tube to eventually develop into a brain and spinal cord. Folate is found naturally in dark green vegetables and citrus fruits, and the best source of folic acid is in fortified cereals.
What Does it Protect Against?
If there isn’t enough folic acid in the body, the baby’s neural tube might not close correctly, and neural tube defects could result. There are two primary conditions here:
- • Spina bifida: Incomplete development of the spinal cord or vertebrae
- • Anencephaly: Incomplete development of major parts of the brain
Most babies with anencephaly do not live long, and in many cases, spina bifida can cause permanent disablement. However, consuming enough folic acid lowers the risk of neural tube defects by at least 50 percent—and by as much as 70 percent if you’ve already had a baby with a neural tube defect.
Folic acid may also help prevent several other possible birth complications including:
- • Cleft lip and palate
- • Premature birth
- • Low birth weight
- • Miscarriage
- • Poor growth in the womb
Folic acid has also been suggested to reduce risk of each of the following:
- • Pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia
- • Heart disease or stroke
- • Certain types of cancer
- • Alzheimer’s disease
The US Public Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all women of childbearing age consume 400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) of folic acid per day to prevent spina bifida and anencephaly. Half of US pregnancies are unplanned, and because these birth defects occur very early after conception (within 3-4 weeks), having folic acid in the system already is important.
The CDC estimates that most of these birth defects could be prevented if this recommendation were followed by all women. Speak to your doctor for individual recommendations on folic acid consumption.
Good Sources of Folic Acid
Foods that may be beneficial for getting more folic acid in the system before or during pregnancy include:
- • Breakfast cereals fortified with folic acid
- • Beef liver
- • Lentils
- • Spinach
- • Egg noodles
- • Great Northern beans
If you are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, your doctor can offer recommendations for folic acid intake and other precautions to limit the risk of birth defects.
“Folic Acid and Pregnancy.” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/baby/folic-acid-and-pregnancy#1
“Folic Acid.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/recommendations.html