Nutrition - Medical Dictionary

N U T R I T I O N

Folic Acid Vitamins




Folic acid is a vitamin in the B group.  It is necessary to have folic acid (also called folate or folacin) to promote the formation of normal red blood cells as well as the synthesis of DNA.  That is the reason taking folic acid during pregnancy is so important.  Studies have shown that taking folic acid vitamins during pregnancy can reduce the chances of birth defects of the brain and spinal cord such as spina bifida or anencephaly.

Folic acids can be obtained naturally through leafy vegetables such as spinach and turnip greens.  Vegetables like asparagus, romaine lettuce, and broccoli contain folic acid.  Other vegetables, such as dried beans and peas, cereals, and sunflower seeds also contain folic acids.  Orange juice (concentrate is best) is also an excellent source of folic acid.

However, as a busy mother-to-be, you may not be able to ingest enough through these sources, so the doctor may prescribe folic acid vitamins for you to take.  Taking a multivitamin that contains 400 micrograms of folic acid can keep both you and the baby healthy throughout the pregnancy.  Even if you are only thinking of becoming pregnant, the doctor may suggest you take folic acid vitamins just in case.  It is very important that your body have the folic acid it needs before conception and during the first few weeks of pregnancy, although he or she will probably suggest you take the vitamin throughout the pregnancy.

What exactly does the folic acid do for a growing baby?  It helps the baby’s neural tube.  That is the part of a baby that eventually becomes the baby’s brain and spinal cord.  Studies have shown that if all women took folic acid vitamins correctly before and after conception, it could reduce the risk of birth defects by up to 70%.  Even if you have had one pregnancy, in which the baby had a birth defect of the brain or spinal cord, taking folic acid can help during the next pregnancy.  Check with your doctor because he may have you take a large dose to help prevent birth defects during this pregnancy.

While 400 micrograms of folic acid is recommended each day, even if you go over that (including both the folic acid vitamins and folic acid consumed in foods), there is really no toxic level of folic acid, although doctors suggest taking no more than 1,000 micrograms of synthetic folic acid each day.

Even if you are taking folic acid vitamins but still worry about the risk of your baby having a birth defect, there are tests that can be performed.  A blood test can be done to measure the level of alpha fetoprotein (AFP) in the mother’s blood during the 16th and 18th week of pregnancy.  Between the 17th and 20th week of pregnancy, your doctor can perform an ultrasound on the baby’s head and spine to check for defects.

Even after the pregnancy, it is important to maintain your intake of folic acid.  Recent studies have shown that taking folic acid vitamins can help prevent heart disease, stroke, colon cancer, and breast cancer.


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