Folic acid (or vitamin B9) is recommended by health professionals to women during pregnancy, but what exactly is it? Why is it so important? What can a deficiency in folic acid cause when you're pregnant? We've got the answers here.
Folic acid is also known as "folate". Your body does not produce this vitamin so you need to make sure that you eat enough and supplement with a high enough dose. Folic acid is man made, while folate is the natural version.
You can get folic acid added to some whole grain and enriched foods, cereals and some milks.
Folate occurs naturally in foods like spinach, kale, legumes, asparagus, beets, broccoli, among others. Eating a diet rich in those types of veggies gives your body folic acid in it's natural state.
It has been found to reduce birth defects such as Spina Bifida and Anencephaly, also known as "Neural Tube Defects". Neural Tube Defects (or NTDs) are defects that form as early as 4 weeks post conception when the neural tube (at the base of the neck/top of the spinal column) fails to close. If it fails at the top, it can cause Anencephaly or an absence of the skull. Anencephaly is a 100 percent deadly defect that causes part of the skull to fail to form and close and the amniotic fluid will erode baby's brain down to the stem. Those babies typically are miscarried. Out of the ones who aren't miscarried, most are born still and the ones who survive til birth have a very short lifespan.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="720"] Via Mom Junction[/caption]
If the tube fails to close at the bottom, it causes a hole in the spine called Spina Bifida. Those babies can live and some can lead normal lives. They also have a surgery that doctors can sometimes perform to close the hole early on.
Another reason to take extra folic acid during pregnancy is to help avoid anemia. Anemia means that one has a low content of iron in their blood, and causes symptoms such as feelings of being cold, pale skin, weakness, fatigue, and dizziness among other things. A mild form of anemia is typically harmless but if it progresses, it can lead to a low birth weight, which brings on a whole new set of issues for baby.
The recommended amount of folic acid for pregnant women is 400 micrograms. For women with conditions like the MTHFR mutation, the numbers go up. If you're planning on getting pregnant or could get pregnant, speak to your doctor about how much you should get and how you should get it. If you have the MTHFR homozygous, you need extra folate, as your body only can process around 7% of what you take in. Other women can normally get away with just taking prenatals with folic acid added.