Folic acid is more than just a pregnancy buzz word -- it's a critical vitamin required to help build DNA and grow and reproduce cells. The B vitamin is essential for everyday health, and for a woman trying to conceive or who is pregnant, it has been shown to reduce neural tube defects ("NTDs," a form of birth defects, like anecephaly and spina bifida) by up to 70%. And since more than half of all pregnancies are unplanned, it's recommended that all women who could become pregnant take folic acid.
January 4 – 10 is Folic Acid Awareness Week, an event created by the National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN), the organization dedicated to the surveillance, research, and prevention of birth defects. The group encourages all women of childbearing years to take in enough folic acid to significantly reduce the likelihood of birth defects. NBDPN recommends taking a multivitamin with 400 mcg of folic acid, and eating fortified foods (foods with added folic acid) along with a healthy diet.
Even with the healthiest of diet, most people do not get enough folate (the natural form of folic acid). Multivitamins, and in particular a prenatal vitamin, help fill in the nutrition gaps in a diet, especially when it comes to getting enough folic acid.
Folic acid is the synthetic form of naturally occurring folate in foods. Folate is found in foods such as leafy green vegetables, beans, liver and some fruit. The synthetic version, folic acid, is found in multivitamins and fortified foods like breakfast cereal, pasta and bread. Folic acid is easier for your body to absorb than folate, plus, 50 to 90 percent of folate is destroyed when food is cooked. Folic acid is water soluble, therefore it passes through your body very quickly. Taking folic acid every day ensures that you always have it in your system when your body needs it. In addition to a multivitamin, you can add even more folate to your diet by eating the following foods high in folate:
- dark leafy greens
- citrus fruits
- beans, peas, lentils
- brussels sprouts
- seeds and nuts
For more resources, check out the National Birth Defects Prevention Month information page. And test your knowledge on folic acid with this quiz!