Folic acid is something I am sure all of you are aware of. Every woman of child bearing age is sure to have heard about it at some point or another. But what is it and why is it so important?
Well, folic acid and folate are members of the B vitamin complex group. Folate can be found in “foliage” foods like spinach, asparagus, and garbanzo beans as well as fortified foods like breakfast cereals. However, folic acid is rarely found naturally in food and must be supplemented in your diet. Folic acid plays an essential role in cell metabolism by helping cells grow and divide. Which explains why it is such an important player during the early stages of pregnancy when very important cell divisions and cell growth is taking place in your growing fetus.
During the early stages of pregnancy the fetus is growing at a very rapid pace, and the neural tube (brain, spinal cord, etc) are already developing. Folic acid plays a key role in this process. It is recommended that all women of child bearing age have a daily dose of folic acid of 400 micrograms, regardless of whether they are expecting or not. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that neural tube defects are reduced by 50% to 70% when the daily dose of folic acid is followed prior to pregnancy.
So how do you meet your daily dose of folic acid? The FDA requires that all grain based products like breads and cereals be fortified with folic acid to help ensure woman are getting more folic acid in their diets, however, the best way to get the recommended dose of folic acid is to either take a folic acid supplement on its own, or take a daily multivitamin that contains folic acid. Most multivitamins that are designed for woman contain the recommended daily dose of 400 micrograms.
When I talked to my OB/GYN about my pregnancy planning he directed me to begin taking a prenatal vitamin as soon as we stop using birth control and begin trying to get pregnant. He stated this course of action is recommended so a woman who is planning a pregnancy can better ensure she has the proper stores of the nutrients necessary in early fetal development. Remember, a lot of fetal growth takes place before you even find out you are pregnant. Since most pregnancies remain unplanned it is important to take a folic acid supplement all through your child bearing years.
If you have questions about folic acid, its importance, and whether how are getting enough folic acid in your diet talk with your doctor.