You have probably heard that it is important for women to take folic acid during pregnancy. That is true. However, it is important that everyone, especially women, get enough folic acid in their diet every day. Folic acid may do more than prevent certain birth defects. Studies are currently under way to determine its effectivemness in the treatment and prevention of certain cancers, heart disease, depression, hearing loss and Alzheimer's disease.
Prevention of Birth Defects
Folic acid is a B vitamin. It is used in our bodies to make new cells. If a woman has enough folic acid in her body before she is pregnant, it can help prevent major birth defects of her baby’s brain and spine. These birth defects are called neural tube defects or NTDs. Since about half of all pregnancies in Utah are unplanned, Check Your Health recommends that all women of childbearing years who are sexually active take a multi-vitamin with folic acid every day, whether they plan to get pregnant or not.
NTD’s happen early in pregnancy, 15 to 30 days after conception, before a women even knows she is pregnant.
Studies show that taking the B vitamin folic acid before pregnancy decreases the risk of having a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect (NTD) by at least 50 percent. The two most common NTD’s are spina bifida and anencephaly.
Chronic Disease Prevention
Folic acid (folate) is a B vitamin promoted mainly as part of a healthy diet to reduce the risk of neural tube birth defects (such as spina bifida and anencephaly), some types of cancer, and heart disease. It has also been studied for use in Alzheimer's disease and in chronic fatigue syndrome. While evidence of its ability to reduce neural tube defects in infants (when taken by the mother before and during pregnancy) is fairly strong, its effects against other conditions are still under study.
The terms "folate" and "folic acid" are often used interchangeably, although they are slightly different. Folate is a naturally occurring vitamin found in dark leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, liver, and in smaller amounts in many other foods (broccoli, beans, peas, eggs, etc.). "Folic acid" is a man-made form of this vitamin, and is actually easier for the body to absorb and use. Folic acid is found in fortified grain-based cereals and breads, and supplements are available in tablet and powder form in drug stores and health food stores. Most multivitamins contain folic acid.
In the United States, the current recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is 400 micrograms (mcg or µg) per day for adolescents and adults, and 600 mcg per day for pregnant women.