What is folic acid good for?
25th October 2018
…even if you aren’t pregnant. You may read this – and be confused. You are not alone, most women think that folic acid is just for pregnancy. Yet this is a common misconception.
Folic acid has been proven to prevent “neural tube” defects such as spina bifida (abnormal development of the spine) and anencephaly, which affects the brain. Yet a lot of women don’t realise they should be taking folic acid before they conceive – this can be particularly problematic if the pregnancy is unplanned. By only taking folic acid once they realise they are pregnant – women miss a crucial period during the preconception phase to reduce birth defects.
The NHS recommends daily supplements of 400 micrograms while women are trying to conceive and during the first trimester. This rises to 5 milligrams (mg) of folic acid each day (until 12 weeks of pregnancy – as this is when the neural tube closes) if:
- You have had a previous pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect
- Your partner has a neural tube defect
- You have a BMI greater than 30kg/m2
Last week folic acid was in the news – helpfully shining a light on the issue – with the announcement that the government are developing a policy to add folic acid to flour in a bid to prevent common birth defects in babies.
The UK has a relatively high rate of preventable birth defects linked to low folic acid. Around 1,000 pregnancies are affected every year. Only 31 % of women take folic acid each year – and education campaigns have been relatively ineffective. This is why the government are looking at ways to increase folic acid intake – recognising that consumer choice and education isn’t always the most effective policy.
Some Doctors have cautioned that we must not become complacent in the event of fortification – and that fortification should sit alongside folic acid supplementation. If women know that flour is fortified, there is a risk that they think daily folic acid tablets are no longer needed.
In the US, where there has been folic acid fortification since 1998, all women from ages 15 through 45 are advised to take a daily folic acid supplementation. This is sensible advice – and means you are protected even if you fall pregnant accidentally – so what’s stopping you from making it a part of your daily routine?
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