Folic acid is a water-soluble B vitamin that plays an important role DNA and RNA synthesis, production of red blood cells and maintenance of the nervous system.
Because folic acid has functions in DNA synthesis and nervous system maintenance, it has been linked to growth and development of the fetus during pregnancy. Clinical evidence clearly shows a beneficial effect of adequate folic acid intake in reducing the risk of brain and spinal cord birth defects.
Due to its role in red blood cell formation, homocysteine metabolism and the fact that deficiency of folic acid results in megaloblastic anemia, supplemental levels are often associated with maintenance of energy levels and heart health.
It is abundantly clear that an adequate intake of folic acid is essential during pregnancy. Overwhelming evidence is available to show women given folic acid supplements during pregnancy have a lower incidence of delivering babies with neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida. Oral contraceptives (“the pill”) have been associated with lower folate levels in women who conceived soon after they stop taking the pill. In some cases, former contraceptive users and women who have delivered babies with neural tube defects may especially benefit from supplemental levels of folate in their diets
The U.S. Department of Health recommends that pregnant women (and those trying to conceive) should take a daily folic acid supplement of 400 mcg (0.4mg). The U.S. Public Health Service recommends that all women of childbearing age consume the same amount of folic acid each day to decrease the risk of having a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect (just in case). Three strategies are available to women to achieve this goal: eat more foods with naturally occurring folate (fruits/veggies); eat foods fortified with folic acid; or use dietary supplements.
Fruits and veggies are the best dietary source (think folic – “foliage”), with dark leafy greens, oranges and orange juice, beans and peas leading the way.
- involved in healthy DNA & RNA synthesis, which is essential for the growth and reproduction of all body cells
- required for the formation of red blood cells by its action on the bone marrow
- aids in amino acid metabolism