Folic acid and pregnancy
Spina bifida occurs when part of the babys spinal cord remains outside the body. The baby may have paralyzed legs and, later, may develop bladder and bowel control problems. With anencephaly, the baby is born without part of its skull and brain, and eventually dies.
All women need folic acid in their diet because it works best for you and your baby early in the first month of pregnancy, a time when you may not even know youre pregnant. Continued use of folic acid after the first month of pregnancy, and throughout your life, ensures the future good health of you and your family.
The vitamin's importance in the development of unborn children was first suggested in the late '60s, when researchers found folate deficiencies might contribute to neural tube defects.
These neural tube defects occur in 1 to 2 per 1,000 births.
The lifetime medical and financial costs of a patient with spina bifida are very high and the effect on the family is incalculable.
Folic acid: dont be confused by labels
Read food and vitamin labels carefully to make sure youre getting enough folic acid. On the labels, folic acid is also called "folate." The amount of folic acid or folate in a vitamin or food may be given as either 400 micrograms or 0.4 mg. "mg" stands for MILLIGRAM. They are the same amounts.
Nutrition information on food and dietary supplement labels can help women determine whether they are getting enough folate, which is 400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) a day before pregnancy and 800 micrograms a day during pregnancy.
The FDA restricts the amount of folic acid allowed in vitamin supplements to only 400 mcg (micrograms) per daily dose. The FDA does allow 800 mcg of daily folate if the vitamins are intended for pregnant women.
In Europe, folic acid supplements containing 5,000 mcg of folic acid have been sold for more than 25 years.
Folic acid not only beneficial for pregnancy
Folic acid has other benefits in addition to preventing birth defects. Folate leads to a decrease in homocysteine serum concentrations. Homocysteine in high levels is a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Taking vitamin supplements containing vitamin B6 and folate with every meal is desirable to neutralize the formation of toxic homocysteine in the bloodstream, thereby lowering the risk of heart disease, stroke and other vascular diseases.
In The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers who wrote articles about the dangers of homocysteine recommend daily supplementation of 1000-2000 mcg of folate for those with elevated plasma homocysteine levels.
Finally, it should be noted that folic acid is depleted through the use of many prescription drugs:
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