Folic acid, also known as folate, is a component of the vitamin B complex vitamin supplements. It is found primarily in the B9 vitamin and is generally present in leafy green vegetables.
Due to folic acid’s importance in human development, the federal government has begun enriching grain products and fruit juices with folate to ensure childbearing women have the correct amount of folic acid. This will not only benefit the pregnant mom but also assist with effective development of the fetus.
Why You Should Take Folic Acid
Research has indicated that women who do not receive approximately 400 mcg of folic acid per day increase the risk of the fetus developing a birth defect. This is due to the fact that folic acid contributes to brain and spinal cord development and any deficiencies in this development can cause medical conditions after birth.
The neural tube defects can also influence the nervous system, which leads to chronic neurological conditions.
The most common of these neural tube deficiencies is spina bifida. Spina bifida occurs as a result of incomplete closure of the spinal cord. This exposes the spinal column to infections and increases neurological dysfunction. An infant who has not received the correct amount of folic acid can also suffer from an underdevelopment of the brain.
The presence of these defects occurs in the first 28 days of pregnancy, generally before a women is even aware she is carrying a child. This is why it is essential for women of childbearing age to take folic acid and avoid any deformity during this early period.
As is mentioned above, folic acid is a component found in the vitamin B complex supplement. It is a water-soluble substance which contributes to the compounds stability.
While folic acid can be found in vitamin B enriched foods, it is more commonly available in vitamin supplements and fortified foods. It is also available as part of certain metabolic functions in the individual’s body.
In addition to preventing defects among a fetus during pregnancy, folic acid can also act as a treatment for various medical conditions. One of the medical conditions is known as anemia and occurs when an individual has a red blood cell deficit.
The folic acid keeps the blood healthy and assists in effective transportation of oxygen from the lungs to the brain. People who suffer from anemia will have difficulty functioning effectively and may present with exhaustion, headaches, a pale skin, and a painful inflammation of the mouth and tongue.
Foods That Contain Folic Acid
While folic acid is most easily obtained from vitamin B supplements, it can be present in different vitamin B enriched foods (as is mentioned above). The foods presenting with high levels of folic acid include leafy vegetables, beans, lentils, peas, fruit, potatoes, nuts, and sunflower seeds.
Due to the importance of folic acid, the federal government has begun inserting this compound into breads, breakfast cereals, white rice, and flour – all in an effort to provide childbearing women with folate. A popular food item that is enriched with folic acid is that of peanut butter.
Be Careful with Folate Supplements
Unlike folic acid in foods, it is possible to ‘overdose’ on folate when obtaining it via a vitamin B supplement. This is due to the fact that the folic acid is being presented in a direct form and is not repressed by additional foods. If one takes more than 1000 mcg of vitamin supplements per day, it is possible that one will experience nerve damage. This is particularly true among individuals who have a vitamin B12 deficiency.
It is possible for pregnant women to identify the risk of neural tube defects within the first 16 weeks of pregnancy. This can be done using an alpha-fetoprotein measure – a blood test that measures the level of protein being produced by the fetus. The level should peak at 30 weeks, but a lower amount will indicate the presence of a neural tube defect.
A woman who has an elevated alpha-fetoprotein test result will have the opportunity to request a second test to confirm the results. This second test will be completed using an ultrasound or amniocentesis.
If the baby still presents with a detrimental result, it may be due to low folic acid levels in the female’s body prior to conception. This is the reason women should take note of their folic acid levels on a daily basis.