Preventing birth defects with folic acid
Every year in the United States there are over 3,000 pregnancies affected by serious neural tube defects, such as spina bifida or anencephaly.1 However, folic acid, if taken prior to and during pregnancy, could help prevent up to 70% of these birth defects.2
What is folic acid?
Folic acid is a B vitamin that the body uses to create new cells (e.g.: skin cells, cells in the gastrointestinal tract). It is vital for everyone, as it enables the body to replace lost cells continually. Folic acid is especially important for women pregnant with a rapidly growing child, as lack of folate supplementation has been linked to an increased incidence of newborn brain and spinal cord developmental defects.3
When should women take folic acid?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all women between the ages of 15 and 45 take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid on a daily basis, even if they are not planning to become pregnant.4 Neural tube defects develop in the first few weeks of pregnancy, so it is essential that enough folic acid is present in the body before becoming pregnant. Taking folic acid on a daily basis not only helps women’s bodies produce healthy, new cells more effectively, but also helps to prevent birth defects in unplanned pregnancies.
How can you get enough folic acid?
Good sources of folic acid include lentils, nuts, avocados, dark green vegetables (such as broccoli, spinach, collard or turnip greens), and citrus fruit and juice. It can also be found in most multivitamins sold in the United States. However, a folic acid supplement can be found at most pharmacies, as well.5 Additionally, many breakfast cereals sold in the United States contain folic acid. Be sure to check the nutrition labels on cereals to ensure you are getting the 100% daily value (400 mcg).6
This week is Folic Acid Awareness Week
January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, and this January 8-14 is Folic Acid Awareness Week. Help spread the word about the importance of folic acid with these social media resources from the National Birth Defects Prevention Network.
1. “Folic Acid: Data and Statistics.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2016. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/data.html.
2, 6.“Folic Acid Awareness Week.” National Birth Defects Prevention Network. 2016. http://www.nbdpn.org/faaw.php.
3, 4, 5. “Facts About Folic Acid.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2016. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/about.html.
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