Folic Acid Benefits: Why you should drink it before and during pregnancy
Folic acid is very vital for everyone, so much so that since 1998, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States requires manufacturers to include folic acid in grain products such as cereals, pasta, cornmeal, rice, processed bread, flours but most also, it is mostly essential for women before and during pregnancy with medical research showing that folic acid benefits are particularly beneficial for babies.
Such is the importance of folic acid for women that when taken in the right amounts and at the right time, the effects on pregnant women are amazing. For example, Spina bifida and Anencephaly are the two most common neural tube defects (NTDs), birth defects of the brain and spinal cord that statistically happen in about 3,000 pregnancies every year in the United States with folic acid proving to be medically necessary to prevent NTDs.
As important as eating the right quantity and quality of food, exercising, getting the right amount of sleep is, equally important is the daily intake of folic acid for a woman. This article will clearly explain why folic acid is a necessity and the benefits it has for women who take it before and during pregnancy.
What is folic acid?
Folic acid, also known as pteroylmonoglutamic acid is the synthetic form of folate (a naturally occurring vitamin in certain foods) is a B vitamin that is necessary for the body. The body uses folic acid to produce healthy new red blood cells which carry oxygen throughout the body and the B9 vitamin helps in DNA formation, growth, and development of the body.
Folic acid which is water-soluble and is used in supplements and fortified foods has an absorbability of 85% while folate which is naturally occurring has an absorbability of 50%.
Which foods contain folic acid?
Folate is a naturally occurring vitamin and can be found in large quantities in particular foods while folic acid which is the man-made form of the vitamin can be gotten from the intake of certain foods that have been fortified with it. Example of such foods that folate can be found in includes;
Leafy green vegetables
Green vegetables contain folate in a high quantity as they contain vitamins and minerals in a large proportion. Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, arugula not just contain vitamins but are also low in calories but also have a high fiber content.
Lentils, beans, peas are legumes that are excellent sources of folate. While the quantity of folate may vary, legumes not only contain folate but also protein, micronutrients, fiber.
“Eat at least one egg per day”; while this has not been proven medically to have any direct relation to the risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke, it is surely a great way to increase your intake of folate and the amount of folate in your body. Eggs contain a high quantity of protein, folate, vitamin B12, lutein, and zeaxanthin.
A rich source of folate, beetroots which are commonly known as beets is an excellent addition to any food as it also contains high portions of potassium, vitamin C, nitrates which are nutrients necessary for the body. They are also incredibly delicious so it’s a win-win situation for you.
Have you ever eaten brussels sprouts? Well, if it wasn’t well cooked you probably won’t want to try it again but hey guess what the brussels sprouts are one of the most nutritious vegetables high in folate, minerals, and kaempferol.
The beef liver has one of the highest amounts of folate. In addition to folate, it is an excellent source of vitamin B, C, Iron, Potassium with a single serving providing as much as 100% of vitamin A required for a day.
Bananas and Avocados are fruits that are rich in their quantity of folate concentration. Both contain excellent amounts of folate as well as other nutrients such as potassium, manganese, vitamins and are very available and refreshing.
The nutritional content of broccoli is so impressed with the variety of nutrients including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber. Either eaten raw or cooked, broccoli provides a healthy dose of folate as well as vitamin C.
Folic acid can be found in certain fortified foods with their level of folic acid content boosted to provide vitamin B. Foods such as grains, pasta, bread.
Folic acid can also be gotten as a multivitamin with vitamin supplements being made available in the required amount and proportion.
Folic Acid Benefits
Folic acid is necessary for everyone as the benefits are essential for just about everyone. The red blood cells are vital in the human body as they carry oxygen throughout the human body. Shortage of oxygen is detrimental to the body with its consequences ranging from the paleness of complexion, fatigue to folate deficiency anemia hence the need for the red blood cells to continue to supply blood around the body. Folate helps the body in making new red blood cells and also helps with DNA repair, synthesis, and other genetic material.
Folate is also critical for cellular division and several metabolic processes as well as being useful in the treatment of folate deficiency.
The risk of heart diseases occurring can also be reduced by taking folic acid supplements. Folate helps in the metabolic process of homocysteine (an amino acid that is associated with the risk of heart disease.)
Medically, research has shown that folic acid can be used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease as low levels of folate have been linked to mental impairment in older adults and poor brain function. Medical-related health issues such as diabetes, inflammation, kidney disease have shown signs of improvement when taking folic acid supplements.
Folate supplements also help raise the rate of possible live births for women who are undergoing assisted reproductive technology.
Folic acid for pregnancy
Folic acid is essential for women before and during pregnancy with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all women get into the habit of taking folic acid daily even if they are not planning for pregnancy.
Some people may have an issue with this and ask why do you have to take it every day even when you’re not planning to get pregnant right? Well, here are a few reasons:
- Folic acid gets metabolized quickly in the body because it’s a water-soluble vitamin and so you need to get the vitamin in your body every day.
- Folic acid is important for babies as it helps to prevent birth defects in children including neural tube defects. These defects can happen in the first trimester of pregnancy without you even knowing so to avoid finding out late it is necessary to take it daily.
- If your birth control doesn’t work or you used it wrongly after sex, you’ll probably discover it later on and avoid issues.
Neural tube defects spina bifida and anencephaly are birth defects of the brain and spinal cord that are present at birth and cause health problems and affect the proper functioning of the body. In the United States, about 1500 babies are affected with spina bifida with about 1000 babies affected by anencephaly every year. Folic acid may also help to reduce the risk of autism spectrum disorders and also help to increase neurodevelopment and brain function in children.
Folic acid dosage
There is a recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of folic acid dosage which should be taken daily for dietary folate equivalent (DFE):
- 150 mcg for children aged 1 to 3 years
- 200 mcg for children aged 4 to 8 years
- 300 mcg for children aged 9 to 13 years
- 400 mcg for adults (aged 13 and above)
- 500 mcg for breastfeeding women
- 600 mcg for pregnant women
There are tolerable intake levels (UL) of folic acid which refer to the maximum dose that can be taken daily and is unlikely to cause harm to the body;
- 300 mcg for children aged 1 to 3 years
- 400 mcg for children aged 4 to 8 years
- 600 mcg for children aged 9 to 13 years
- 800 mcg for children aged 14 to 18 years
- 1 mg for adults over 18 years
The daily amount of folate that the body requires can be attained by eating foods that contain folate nutrients but then again, it may be difficult to get the right amount from the diet eaten daily that’s why one way to be sure that you are taking the required amount is to take a vitamin that has folic acid. Folic acid can be taken in several ways; they exist as multivitamins or in fortified foods such as cereals.
Folic acid side effects
While folate in its natural form hasn’t been known to have any side effects when taken from foods and fruits, folic acid on the other hand has negative side effects when taken in high doses. A high intake of folic acid leaves unmetabolized folic acid in the system which cannot be broken down by the body.
Some common side effects include:
- Bloating, stomach pain
- Nausea and loss of appetite
- Sleeping problems
- Bitter taste in the mouth
- Trouble concentrating and easily getting confused
- Some more serious and long-term risks can arise from high intake;
- Cancer risk: Although more research is required due to the seeming two-fold role of folic acid in regards to cancer, prostate cancer may be a potential risk when folic acid is taken in high doses more than what the body requires daily.
- Immune function suppression: According to various research carried out, unmetabolized folic acid can affect the proper functioning of the immune cells in the body.
- Possible brain development impairment in children: While the right amount of folic acid is required for the proper development of the brain of children, an unnecessarily high intake can increase the resistance of insulin which would slow down the rate of development of the child’s brain.
Folic acid benefits FAQs
Is it possible to require a higher dose of folic acid than is normally required?
There are instances when it will be okay to take higher doses of folic acid. Some of such situations include:
- If you have a history of NTDs: In the scenario where you have previously given birth to a child with a neural tube defect then you may require higher doses of folic acid in the months leading up to and the first few months after delivery for your subsequent pregnancies
- If you have kidney disease
- If you have liver disease
After menopause do I still need to take folic acid?
Even after reaching menopause, you still need to take 400 mcg of folic acid to enjoy the other health benefits of the vitamin.
Are there medications I can’t use while taking folic acid?
Folic acid interacts with some medications and it would be advisable to consult with your doctor before using these medications; Cholestyramine, Methotrexate, Sulfasalazine, Dilantin, Daraprim.
Is it safe to take folic acid while breastfeeding?
Nursing mothers need to maintain any adequate intake of folate even while breastfeeding but it is advisable to speak to your doctor or pediatrician.
Folic acid has been in use for a very long time with the benefits of taking the vitamin evident in children, adults, and pregnant women alike. Though, nothing can take the place of eating food in a balanced form because as a matter of fact, the necessary nutrients needed are available in food, fruits, vegetables. Folic acid should not take the place of eating properly but should only serve to enhance the amount of folate already taken into the body.
Whenever you purchase folic acid supplements, always ensure to check the body of the container to be sure of the dosage of supplements and how they should be used. More importantly though, always speak with your doctor to inform him or her especially before and during pregnancy.