Why folic acid is important for pregnancy
The benefits of folic acid
If you have been trying to conceive for some time or considered pregnancy, then chances are that you may have either considered taking folic acid or come across it.
Folic acid belongs to the B group of vitamins. The B vitamins are known to help the cells grow and reproduce properly as well as helping to produce energy by breaking down foods. The body is always in a constant process of making new cells to replace old ones that wear out. For this process to work perfectly, the body requires a good supply of folic acid, without it, you will not be able to replace older cells fast enough which may have health implications. For the average healthy person, folic acid is required to support the normal growth and maintenance of every cell in the body.
As a water-soluble vitamin, the body must get a regular supply of folic acid every day as it can’t be stored by the body. Because folic acid works closely with the other B vitamins, if you’re low on any of the other B vitamins then chances are that you are also low on folic acid.
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Why folic acid is important for pregnancy
When it comes to pregnancy, folic acid receives the most attention out of all the B-complex vitamins. Folic acid has been demonstrated to lessen the risk of your baby developing spina bifida and other neural tube birth abnormalities. Folic acid must be taken before becoming pregnant and continued during the pregnancy to be effective. As a result, the United States Public Health Service recommends that all women of childbearing age take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. Folic acid is virtually always included in prenatal vitamins and is usually given in a dose of 1 mg (1,000 mcg).
Folic acid is a key micronutrient for fetal development and growth. The body requires a lot of folic acid especially in preterm infants, particularly during the period of rapid growth. The intake of folic acid supplements at recommended doses has been consistently linked to lower frequency of infertility, lower risks of pregnancy loss, and greater success in infertility treatment.
For women with no personal health risks and who are trying to conceive, it is recommended that they consume diets rich in folate and supplement with 0.4-1.0mg of folic acid. The supplement should be taken at least 2 to 3 months before conception and throughout pregnancy and the postpartum period (4–6 weeks and as long as breastfeeding continues). For women with some health risks, a family history of neural tube defect or from a high-risk ethnic group, it is important to start folic acid supplementation at least 3 months before conception and continue throughout pregnancy and the postpartum period (4–6 weeks or as long as breastfeeding continues).
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Food sources for Folic Acid
There is a limited number of good animal sources for folic acid. The only good sources are chicken liver and beef liver. Plant sources for folic acid include salad, asparagus, tomatoes, cucumbers spinach, and beans. Beans of all kinds are a good source of folic acid. Generally, fruits do not contain much folic acid, however, bananas, oranges, and cantaloupe can provide some amount of folic acid to the body.
Because the body absorbs just about half of the folic acid you eat from foods, it is generally hard to get all the folic acid required by the body through diet alone. In addition to this, some of the folic acid present in foods are lost in processing and cooking so it is good practice to cook fresh vegetables lightly in as little water as possible to preserve it. For example, peas and spinach, for example, stored for 5 days, lose around 50% of their folate content.
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Research has confirmed that maternal dietary supplementation with folic acid in the peri-conceptional period significantly reduces the risk of neural tube defects. As such, it is important for anyone who is trying to conceive to consider supplementing with folic acid to help support and maintain a healthy pregnancy.
Pressman, A. and Buff, S., 2007. The complete idiot's guide to vitamins and minerals. Indianapolis, IN: Alpha.
Warhus, S., 2011. Fertility demystified. New York: McGraw Hill Professional.
Watson, R., 2015. Handbook of fertility. Amsterdam [u.a.]: Elsevier AP.