What Is Folic Acid and How Can It Help?
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Folate is a B vitamin found in leafy green vegetables and other foods. It is used by the body to produce new cells and is crucial in forming DNA and RNA, the building blocks of cells. Folate is important for the rapid cell growth that both mother and foetus undergo during a pregnancy. Sufficient levels of folate are needed during pregnancy to prevent anaemia in the mother and to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly in the foetus.
Who needs folic acid supplements?
Folate is necessary to replenish constantly growing and dying cells in the body, so everybody needs to have sufficient amounts of folate in their diet . Women of childbearing age are especially likely to need a folic acid supplement. The recommended daily allowance for this vitamin is 400 mcg. A very balanced diet may contain enough folate, but folic acid supplements are often the best way to be sure of getting enough of the vitamin.
The early weeks of pregnancy are when the nervous system begins to take shape so it is especially important that even women who do not plan to become pregnant take a folic acid supplement, in case of an accidental pregnancy. Malformations of the neural tube occur before most women even know they are pregnant. Folic acid supplementation significantly lowers the risk for neural tube defects.
How can I be sure I'm getting the right amount of folate?
A balanced diet can ensure that you are getting most of the folate you need. However, most women will still need a supplement. Modern diets often do not contain enough folate. Folate is found in leafy greens, citrus fruits, certain beans (black-eyed peas, great northern beans), beef liver, fortified breakfast cereals and other fortified foods such as cornmeal and rice.
Even with the vast number of foods containing the vitamin, folate from food sources is usually not enough. Additionally, the natural form found in foods is not as readily used by the body as a supplement.
Folic acid, the synthesised form of folate, should usually be taken as a supplement by all women of childbearing age. Ask your physician if your diet is appropriate to your needs, or if you should take folic acid or a prenatal multi-vitamin containing folic acid.