Medically Reviewed by Pauline O’Driscoll-Anderson, MD
You can hold in your hand one of the most effective tools to prevent birth defects – a daily vitamin containing 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid.
“To prevent birth defects, all women who CAN get pregnant should make sure they have a daily dose of folic acid – event if they AREN’T and DON’T PLAN to get pregnant,” says McLeod Gynecologist Pauline O’Driscoll-Anderson, MD. “In this country, unplanned pregnancies are very common. So, the ability of this particular B vitamin to help babies develop properly needs to be in a woman’s system at all times.”
This vitamin is most critical in preventing Spina Bifida (when the spine is not fully developed) or Anencephaly (failure of the brain to fully develop).
Folic acid is one of the B vitamins and is vital for the production of red blood cells. It exists in a natural form, known as folate. Many foods contain folate, including:
Other foods – bread, breakfast cereals — can be “fortified” with folic acid.
Pregnant women should take up to 700 Micrograms of folic acid a day during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Women who suffer from diabetes, sickle cell anemia, celiac disease, asthma or are obese may need more than the 400 micrograms a day. Consult your OB/GYN to clarify your need.
Most women should avoid consuming more than 1,000 micrograms of folic acid day. Too much folic acid can conceal signs of a lack of Vitamin B-12 and lead to nerve damage. People over age 50 should not consume more than 200 micrograms of folic acid daily.
In addition to preventing birth defects, folic acid may deliver other benefits. Early research indicates that folic acid might also benefit high blood pressure, heart and brain health, as well as preventing cell change that may lead to cancer.
More research is necessary to confirm these findings.
ACTION YOU CAN TAKE
Whether you plan on getting pregnant or not, every adult pre-menopausal woman should get a daily dose 400 micrograms of folic acid. To know if you are taking the correct amount of folic acid, talk with your OB/GYN.
Find a Gynecologist near you.
Sources include: McLeod Health, US Department of Health & Human Services, Association of Dietitians (UK), March of Dimes, US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention