Many women are told as soon as they're expecting that they need to make sure they’re taking a prenatal vitamin that is complete with folic acid and other important vitamins and minerals. Pregnant women actually need folate — methylfolate to be exact. Folic acid is the synthetic version of methylfolate — which is a water soluble B vitamin.
Sometimes referred to as 5-methyltetrahydrofolate, Metafolin, or L-methylfolate, women need 800 to 1200 mg of methylfolate per day leading up to conception and during pregnancy. While many doctors and organizations may still routinely recommend folic acid, more research is being conducted one how each mineral and vitamin specifically benefit human growth and production.
There's a reason that folic acid and other vitamins and minerals have become important to fetal development, because much of how life is created depends on these compounds aiding in mom-to-be's ability to create and sustain a healthy life form inside her.
But what happens when an expectant women is vitamin deficient? It can cause problems with the fetuses development and possibly even cause health problems for mom-to-be as well. A pregnancy diet that is lacking folic acid can mean the difference between a healthy baby and delivery and possible birth defects and premature birth.
If during pregnancy a woman's diet is low in folic acid, she could be at risk for some of the following problems either with her pregnancy or with her baby. Please read on to discover why folic acid is important to a healthy life and pregnancy.
15 Neural Tube Defects
Yes, women need to start consuming methylfolate prior to pregnancy. Those folate levels take time to build up, which is why women are encourage to take prenatal vitamins even before they try to conceive. In addition, folate levels need to be primed and ready when pregnancy occurs to avoid certain issues, like neural tube defects.
Spina bifida, anencephaly and encephalocele are the most common neural tube defects. These conditions take shape between the third and fourth week of embryonic development when the neural tube fails to close.
These issues occur when folate is low, but they do not happen directly because of that. Rather, low folate causes homocysteine to be elevated in the body. When this occurs, the risk of side effects increases dramatically. NTDs are one such side effect. There is no way to cure or fix NTDs and they often aren’t detected until later in a pregnancy. Prevention with adequate amounts of methylfolate is key.
14 Heart Disease
Speaking of homocysteine, high levels of this amino acid cause far more trouble than just NTDs. They can impact not only the baby, but moms and dads who have high levels of it, too. Homocysteine is known to cause hardening and thickening of the arterial walls. In most cases, this occurs slowly over time and the individual has no idea it’s happening.
In people who are at high risk of cardiovascular disease, B vitamins are often recommended to help keep homocysteine under control. Folic acid is the leading B vitamin in this group.
Methylfolate is necessary to keep those homocysteine levels in check. In one study, the risk of stroke was lowered by 12 percent in patients who adhered to this protocol. Heart disease has been shown to be hereditary. If you're at risk, so is baby.
13 Cleft Lip And Palate
Cleft lip and cleft palate are midline defects of the body. They occur in about one out of every 750 babies. Once again, it is important that the body is primed for pregnancy with adequate folate levels because these defects take place between the sixth and eleventh weeks of pregnancy.
Studies have shown that consuming 400 mcg a day of folic acid during pregnancy reduced the risk of cleft lip by one-third, but had no impact on the occurrence of cleft palate. In theory, it is assumed that higher doses of folate instead of folic acid may produce even better results. Research on this is ongoing.
Cleft lip and cleft palate both require surgery on the child post-birth to rectify and scarring is a known outcome. Cleft palate may also continue to affect oral health, impact breastfeeding and chewing, delay speech, and contribute to both hearing loss and ear infections.
12 Leaky Gut
For starters, let’s examine what exactly leaky gut syndrome is. This condition occurs when the gut is injured, which can happen a variety of ways from poor diet to medications. From there, openings in the lining of the intestines allow food and other toxins to seep into the bloodstream where they don’t belong. This can make people seriously ill.
This often-overlooked condition is at the very root of many illnesses, from chronic depression and anxiety to autoimmune disorders. A study carried out on canines who suffered from intestinal permeability showed that folate was more poorly absorbed prior to having surgery to repair the intestinal issues.
This is similar to what happens in humans. Nutrients leak out of the gut and into the bloodstream. Instead of being absorbed by the intestines — where the majority of the immune system is housed — it is unleashed in the body where it makes us ill.
In addition, leaky gut allows bacterial infections to fester. One such infection is candida overgrowth of the intestines. As candida leaches into the bloodstream, it makes it all the more likely that mental and physical health will deteriorate. These conditions can also be passed on to babies through mom’s breastmilk.
11 Medication Reactions
Folate and many medications influence one another quite heavily. Some medications can actually impair the amount of folate that the body can absorb. Likewise, having too little folate can also impair the way the body metabolizes other drugs.
While we aren’t all routinely pumping our babies full of medications, they’re a reality for some families. In addition, folate is essential for the processing of many antibiotics. This is because they disrupt the natural intestinal flora. When this occurs, circulation through the liver and synthesis of folate for it to be reabsorbed by the body can be hindered.
The antibiotics most commonly linked to this problem are: Cephalosporins, Fluoroquinolones, Isoniazid, Macrolides, Penicillins, Sulfonamides, Tetracyclines, and Trimethoprim. Some people are at risk of drug interaction or reaction due to low folate in their system and their body's inability to use these drugs to help kill harmful bacteria. About 11% of Americans have problems turning folic acid into methylfolate — its active form — in the presence of these drugs.
10 Mental Health
Folate and mental illness are tightly interwoven. A deficiency in folate can cause everything from mild irritability to full blown mood disorders. The Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience notes, folate deficiency goes deeper than just the depletion of an important mineral; it also impacts serotonin, which we know as a feel-good chemical that is vital to the benefit of a positive mood.
Research shows that boosting blood serum levels of folate can help improve the symptoms of illnesses like bipolar disorder. Treatment medications for certain disorders, like bipolar, can also further inhibit folate. For example, valproate, a popular prescription mood stabilizer, prevents toxic homocysteine from being converted to methionine and eventually into SAMe, which is also essential to our happiness and mood stability.
The Journal of general Hospital Psychiatry reported on the case of a 42-year old woman with a depressive-type affective disorder who was found to be in full clinical remission after treatment with vitamin B12 and folate.
9 Premature Birth
Studies have continually found that folate deficiency in pregnant women is positively linked with premature birth of their babies. Indirectly, preterm birth can also lead to low birth weight. Low folate levels in the mother are also linked to growth retardation.
Still, some studies have been inconclusive on this matter. That doesn’t mean they’ve proven there is no link between folate deficiency and preterm birth, though. In addition, it is difficult to remove all other potential risk factors for preterm birth from a study cohort.
However, even in the event that folate deficiency does contribute to the occurrence of premature birth, the mechanisms of why are still not fully understood. What is interesting is that of the studies that have been done thus far to determine if supplementation would reduce the likelihood of preterm birth, none of produced results that support that claim.
8 Miscarriage And Infertility
According to WebMD, women who lack adequate folic acid in their diets are 50% more likely to have a miscarriage than their counterparts who take folic acid supplements. Women who are hoping to ward off miscarriage should seek to consume at least 800 mcg of methylfolate per day starting in the months leading up to trying to conceive.
Folic acid is important to cell growth and reproduction, the two very things that happen during the earliest stages of fetal growth and development. So it stands to reason that women who have diets deficient in folic acid may have problems sustaining a pregnancy.
Placental separation is another problem women can experience who have folate deficiency, this in turn can also cause miscarriage.Folic acid is naturally occurring in leafy greens, beans, citrus fruits, and is found in fortified cereals and bread products.
7 Umbilical Hernias
Umbilical hernias occur when the muscles in the abdominal wall don’t join together appropriately to close off the area where the umbilical cord passed through. There are many types of hernias and this variation doesn’t get much attention simply because it doesn’t often cause complications.
Typically, the umbilicus hernia will go away on its own and needs no intervention. If a hernia fails to close, surgical repair may be needed, but most will heal by the time a baby reaches their first year of age. Even adults can incur these hernias. They are generally painless, but the protrusion can be bothersome to some.
In babies, these hernias may present more prominently when a baby’s stomach is distended from eating or crying. Sometimes, they can make an innie look somewhat like an outie. Other times, the intestines or other tissues in the stomach protrude and the hernia appears in regions around the navel that make the stomach look somewhat deformed.
Nonetheless, this is not cause for immediate repair. Surgery is usually only recommended in children if umbilical hernias have not healed themselves by the time the child is roughly five years old.
6 Autism, ADHD, Etc.
Neurodevelopmental disorders have reached epidemic levels. The Autism Science Foundation notes rates of the disorder were roughly 1 in 10,000 in the 1980s. By the 1990s, this number had jumped to 1 in 1,000. Today, it is about 1 in 45.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) rates in diagnosis rose around 3 percent every year between 1997 and 2006 and then by 5 percent annually through 2011.
These disorders are often thought to be mysterious and incurable. The truth is, we know a lot of about what contributes to them. Folate deficiency is one such factor. Cerebral folate deficiency often parallels Autism Spectrum Disorder and children and adults with both conditions have experience an improvement in ASD symptoms when supplementing with folinic acid (methylfolate).
Not so coincidentally, the latest study performed on the autistic population showed that 98 percent of the individuals in the study were positive for the MTHFR SNP.
Hypospadias is a congenital abnormality. It occurs when the urethral opening forms on the underside of the penis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes it occurs in around 1 out of every 1,000 males born in the United States.
In most cases, surgery is required to repair the defect and it is generally performed before the child turns 18 months old. For a long time, no one understood what caused this defect. However, because it occurs in the midline region of the body, there was suspicion that a deficiency in folate could be to blame. Research ensued that sought to prove this theory.
According to a study published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics, folate intake among mothers who birthed infants with severe hypospadias was lower than it was among mothers of infants with a milder variation of the condition. Realistically, further research is needed to explore the link between folate and hypospadias, but it is a strong theory with reliable evidence that there is one.
4 Tongue And Lip Ties
Around 10 percent of babies are born with lip and tongue ties. There are different types — both posterior and anterior, when it comes to tongue ties. The posterior tongue tie can be the most difficult to assess, because it must be done via touch rather than visual cues. Only trained Ear Nose and Throat doctors and pediatric dentists know how to.
Tongue and lip ties are also midline defects that occur when the expectant mother doesn’t take in enough methylfolate. While they are sometimes benign, they can also be quite problematic. Ties are known to interfere with breastfeeding, causing great pain for mom and poor milk transfer. They can also affect oral development, the ability to chew correctly and speech patterns.
Revision for ties can be performed through clipping or via a laser procedure. This procedure — called a frenectomy — often resolves issues mothers are having with breastfeeding that cause pain during the infant’s latch and nipple compression that leaves mom’s nipples looking like lipstick-shaped — a telltale sign of a tie.
3 Sugar Bugs
The sugar bug sounds like a thing of myths. Very few people have heard of it, and many doctors don’t even know how to explain it. The sugar bug is actually a vein that presents across the bridge of the nose between the eyes. Ancient Chinese medicine postulates that this vein means the child may have sensitivities to sugar or even develop a full blown addiction to sugar.
It might sound comical, but many families struggle severely with this issue and even have to lock their cabinets and refrigerators from their own children.
This same sensitivity has now progressed into problems with other foods since our diets have become so largely processed. In addition, some professionals believe it also signals parents a forewarning that their little one may be sensitivity to certain environmental triggers, like mold.
This would also point toward a deficiency in folate being a cause, but a lot of exploration is still needed on this issue. For now, if your baby has the sugar bug vein, arm yourself with knowledge.
2 Autoimmune Diseases
Autoimmune disorders have long been connected to low levels of folate. Autoimmune thyroiditis and chronic urticaria are two of the most common illnesses that affect people with low folate.
In the case of autoimmune thyroiditis, pernicious anemia often stems from folate deficiency and that leads to the disorder, which causes the body to seek to destroy the thyroid gland because it sees it as a threat to the body and produces antibodies against it.
When it comes to chronic urticaria, skin rashes and hives will develop on the surface of the skin during flares that can be both itchy and painful. They are normally treated with prescription antihistamines or steroids that, through repeated exposure, can slowly lose efficacy and cause the body to resist treatment.
Though these hives come and go, when they arrive they may stick around for weeks or months at a time.
It is assumed that folate deficiency may be linked with other autoimmune disorders, too. In fact, adult onset cerebral folate deficiency is recognized as an autoimmune condition on its own. In one case, a 58-year old woman diagnosed with symptoms that strongly resembled dementia had low folate levels and she was treated with folic acid and within six months of such her condition completely resolved.
1 Substance Dependencies
We know that alcoholism has genetic ties and that children with alcoholic parents are four times as likely to become alcoholics themselves. Nationwide, 20.2 million adults had a substance use disorder last year, per the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Many of them may be suffering from a folate deficiency and are totally unaware of it.
Folate deficiency in anyone can cause addictive tendencies. Sometimes, it is substance abuse that leads to folate deficiency, too, and from there things worsen. Binge drinking and alcohol abuse leads to impaired absorption of folate in the intestines. This then leads to disruptions in our mood and can cause individuals to perpetually want to numb the effects of depression and other issues that ensure by self-medicating.
As previously noted, people who don’t consume enough folate may suffer from mental illness, too. Depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders often lead people to abuse drugs and alcohol. It is thought that decreased concentration of folate in the blood occurs in up to 80 percent of alcoholics.