Should you be taking a folic acid supplement?

Folic acid is a B vitamin that is used by the body for normal growth and development. Folic acid works to prevent certain birth defects

It is recommended that all women who can become pregnant get 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. Women who take a folic acid supplement before and during pregnancy have a lower chance of having a baby born with a neural tube defect (NTD). NTDs occur in the brain and spine. The most common NTDs are spina bifida and anencephaly. Spina bifida affects spinal cord development. Anencephaly is a condition in which the baby is born with a poorly developed brain and skull. Since birth defects can occur in the first few weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman knows she is pregnant, it is important to get enough folic acid prior to becoming pregnant.

The best way to ensure getting an adequate amount of folic acid is to take a multivitamin containing 400 micrograms every day. Another option is to eat a food that has been fortified with folic acid. Many healthy breakfast cereals are fortified and contain 100% Daily Value of folic acid in one serving. Other fortified foods are bread, pasta, flour, rice and other grain products.

Folate is the natural form of folic acid that is found in foods. Citrus fruits and juice, leafy, dark green vegetables like spinach, and dried beans, peas and nuts contain folate. Unfortunately, the folate found naturally in foods is not absorbed by the body as easily as is the folic acid, or the synthetic form, that is found in vitamin supplements and used to fortify foods.

It is important to remind your female friends and family members about the importance of taking a folic acid supplement before becoming pregnant!