Everyone needs folic acid – it aids in cellular growth and is converted into vitamin B9, which fuels your body and treats certain illnesses. However, it’s most commonly discussed with women who are pregnant or are thinking about getting pregnant. This is because folic acid also helps prevent a number of birth defects and plays a major role in the prevention of cancer and cellular mutations. We’ve put together a mini guide of everything you need to know about folic acid and your (potential) pregnancy.
What is folic acid?
Folic acid is a B-vitamin that is necessary for proper cell growth. It helps your body make red blood cells that carry oxygen from your lungs to all parts of your body. The terms folate and folic acid are often used interchangeably as they are both forms of vitamin B9, however, there is an important difference between the two. Folic acid is the man-made version that is commonly used in processed food and supplements. Natural folate can be found in whole foods such as leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, and beans. Before and during pregnancy, women should eat a balanced diet that is rich in natural folate from food. However, depending on your diet, it can be difficult to get the recommended daily amount of folate from food alone. For this reason, supplements are usually recommended.
While folic acid is helpful for fetal development in the womb, other people also take it for cardiovascular, brain, and nervous system support.
Why do I need folic acid?
Everyone needs folic acid to be healthy. But it is especially important for women who are thinking about getting pregnant or who are pregnant. Folic acid keeps your blood healthy by helping red blood cells form and grow. If taken before and during pregnancy, folic acid can prevent up to 70% of some serious birth defects of the brain and spine, called neural tube defects. Birth defects can cause lifelong problems with health, growth, and learning.
What birth defects could be caused by a lack of folic acid?
Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects, which are very serious. They affect the spine, spinal cord, and/or brain and increase the risk of premature death. Neural tube defect disorders include spina bifida, anencephaly, and more. Spina bifida is a birth defect in which a baby’s spine does not develop correctly and can result in some severe physical disabilities. Anencephaly is a birth defect in which parts of a baby’s brain and skull do not form correctly. Since a lot of pregnancies are unplanned and birth control isn’t always 100% effective, taking folic acid daily during your childbearing years is highly recommended in preventing birth defects. It’s better safe than sorry!
How much folic acid is needed?
In addition to consuming food with folate from a varied diet, every woman needs to get 400 mcg of folic acid each day, and 600 mcg if you’re pregnant. Start a healthy habit today by getting 400 mcg of folic acid daily. Your folic acid supplement can be a multivitamin, a prenatal vitamin, or a supplement that contains just folic acid.
Taking folic acid every day is important for your body and the healthy development of your baby. While you can try and get enough of the natural form, folate, it’s difficult to achieve through food alone. Talk to your doctor to make sure that you’re taking the right amount of folic acid.
Community Care Physicians is proud to offer several obstetrics and gynecology services around the Capital Region that can help you every step of the way – before, during and post pregnancy. For more information on our services, contact our Concierge Care Coordinator at (518) 782-3800.