If you are pregnant, or hoping to become pregnant, taking
vitamins and eating nutritiously most likely ranks high on your list of priorities.
But whether you are planning for the patter of tiny feet — or not — you may
find it surprising to learn that there is one thing every woman of childbearing
age should do: take folic acid.
What Are the Benefits
of Folic Acid?
Folic acid is a man-made form of folate (a B-vitamin) that
if taken before and during early pregnancy can protect an unborn baby from
serious brain and spinal cord defects, called neural tube defects. In short, during
the first few weeks of pregnancy, the baby grows a structure (a neural tube)
that will eventually form its spinal cord and nervous system. When the neural
tube does not fully close, this is called a neural tube defect. The two most
common types of neural tube defects are spina bifida and anencephaly.
bifida is a condition where the backbone that protects the spinal cord
doesn’t form and close as it should. Frequently, this results in damage to the
spinal cord and nerves. Spina bifida can cause physical and intellectual
disabilities, which range from mild to severe.
is a condition where the upper part of the neural tube that forms the brain doesn’t
completely close. Babies with anencephaly are often born without the front part
of the brain (forebrain) and the thinking and coordinating part of the brain
(cerebrum). The remaining parts of the brain are often not covered by bone or
skin. Babies with anencephaly usually die shortly after birth.
How Much Folic Acid Does
a Woman Need?
for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that women who plan to or
could become pregnant get 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily.
Why Should Women of
Childbearing Age Take Folic Acid?
A baby’s neural tube closes during the early weeks of
pregnancy, typically before the mom-to-be knows that she is pregnant. Also, about
half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, according to the CDC.
Consequently, taking folic acid every day can prevent serious
health issues for your baby if your positive pregnancy test comes as a
How Can Women Get
Most multivitamins in the U.S. have the recommended 400 mcg
of folic acid. Also, some foods in the U.S. are fortified with folic acid.
Other foods contain folate naturally.
What Foods Contain
Foods that are naturally high in folate include:
What Foods Are
Fortified with Folic Acid?
The Food and Drug Administration requires that certain foods
be fortified with folic acid, while other foods may be voluntarily fortified.
Folic acid can be found in the following foods:
Do Women Need to Take
a Vitamin with Folic Acid If They Are Eating Fortified Foods?
Yes, women should take a vitamin with folic acid every day.
According to the CDC, researchers estimate that in the U.S. people consume
about 140 mcg of folic acid daily from mandatorily fortified foods. That falls
way below the 400 mcg recommended to protect against neural tube defects.
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