It is folic acid awareness week and many women don’t understand the importance of folic acid in the prevention of birth defects.
What is folic acid?
Folic acid is the synthetic form of a naturally occurring B vitamin called folate. Since 1998 it has been required that folic acid be added to all fortified breads, cereals, rice, pastas, and other grain products.
What are the benefits of folic acid?
There are many benefits of folic acid, and many are not just for pregnant women.
Before pregnancy, folate is show to improve fertility in both men and women.
Pregnant women are encouraged to get more folic acid in their diet to decrease the risk of certain birth defects. Getting enough folic acid before pregnancy and early on in pregnancy reduces the risk of neural tube defects, the most common type of defects due to folate insufficiency. Neural tube defects are severe defects in the brain and spinal cord, some of which are fatal. Getting enough folic acid in your diet early in pregnancy is also shown to decrease the risk of congenital heart defects, cleft lip, limb defects and even urinary tract defects. It has also been shown to decrease the risk of miscarriage, placental abruption, preterm delivery, low birth weight, and fetal growth restriction. Having enough folate in your diet or by supplementation can even help reduce your risk of developing preeclampsia.
There are many other benefits to getting enough folate in your diet. It has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. There have been some studies that show a link between depression and a lack of folate as well. Though there is no evidence that getting enough folate decreases the risk of cancer, there is some evidence that folate from natural sources and not via supplementation can decrease the chances of developing colorectal cancer.
The risk of folate toxicity is very low because it is a water soluble vitamin and any excess is excreted through urine.
How do I get more folic acid in my diet?
It is recommended that women get at least 4oo micrograms of folic acid per day, even before pregnancy. It is recommended that even women who are not trying to get pregnant take supplemental folic acid in case of an unplanned pregnancy.
There are many ways to get more folic acid in your diet, the easiest way being through supplementation via vitamins. If you want to get folate in your diet the natural way, it is found in many different foods including vegetables (mostly green leafy vegetables), fruits and fruit juices, beans, nuts, dairy products, eggs, meat and poultry, and seafood. Many grains are even fortified to make it easier to get more folic acid in your diet.
Did you know about the importance of folate in your diet?