Why take Folic Acid during Pregnancy?

January 4th to 10th was the National Folic Acid Awareness week, calling attention to the relevance of the prevention of some birth defects and how folic acid can help. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all pregnant women or planning to get pregnant take 400mcg (0.4 milligrams) of folic acid every day. Studies have shown that consumption of folic acid before and during early pregnancy from fortified foods or multivitamin supplements, can prevent up to 70% of serious birth defects of the spine and brain.

Folic Acid is a B9 vitamin, this compound is important for the correct development of the blood cells and is necessary for the RBC formation enzymes. It is mainly found in green vegetables like broccoli and spinach, in orange juice and enriched grains.
The most common birth defects that can be prevented with folic acid are:
  • Spina bifida; incomplete closing of the neural tube.
  • Anencephaly; severe brain underdevelopment.
  • Encephalocele; brain tissue protuberance caused by an abnormal opening in the skull.

All of these defects occur in the first 28 days of pregnancy, which generally happens before the woman even knows she is pregnant. Therefore, is it very important that women in their fertile stage have the necessary quantity of folic acid intake; not just those who are looking to get pregnant. Only 50% of pregnancies are planned, so any woman who could become pregnant should make sure to take the necessary amount of folic acid.
Doctors and specialized scientists are not quite sure of why folic acid has such a big effect on the prevention of neural tube defects, but they know that this vitamin is crucial on the development of DNA. Consequently, folic acid plays an important role in the growth and expansion of tissue forming cells. How to know if you are consuming the right amount of folic acid? In 1998, the FDA ordered folic acid to be added to enriched grain products. So by just eating more breakfast cereals, pasta, rice and bread you will be increasing your folic acid intake.
In most cases, eating fortified food is not enough. to achieve the recommended daily level you may need a vitamin supplement. More importantly, during pregnancy you need a higher amount of all the essential nutrients than before getting pregnant (since there is two of you now). There are folic acid supplements in the market as well, and that way you wouldn't have to worry about finding the right kind of folic acid rich food. Most of them do not require prescription and can be found, practically anywhere since they are an over-the-counter tablets. 

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