The Importance of Folic Acid (Folate)
Women planning a pregnancy should take folic acid (one of the B vitamins) to prevent possible birth defects in their unborn children. Folic acid has been proven to prevent Neural Tube Defects (NTD).
Neural Tube Defects
The neural tube surrounds the spinal cord and brain. Closure of the neural tube normally occurs 3-4 weeks after conception, often before pregnancy is diagnosed. If the neural tube fails to close properly this can result in abnormalities of the spine, brain, or skull. Spina Bifida is the most common neural tube defects. Unfortunately NTD can cause stillbirth, or cause a baby to have lifelong disabilities. Statistically, NTD occurs in 0.01-0.04% births in Canada.
All women who could become pregnant should take a multivitamin containing 1mg of folic acid every day. This will reduce the risk of NTD. It is recommended to take a folic acid supplement three months before pregnancy and continue thru pregnancy. Increased dosages are not recommended without consultation with a specialist. Excessive intake of folate may possibly cause neurological damage.
If you or someone in your family has already had a child with NTD you may be at higher risk of developing this condition. In this case it is advisable for you to take a higher dosage of folic acid after discussing this with your health care provider. Women with a history of diabetes, obesity, or epilepsy may also be at increased risk for NTD.
Food Sources of Folic Acid
Good sources of folic acid include dark green vegetables (spinach, broccoli, peas, brussel sprouts, asparagus, lettuce), corn, dried peas, beans, lentils, sunflower seeds, peanuts, yeast, avocado, melons, eggs, beets, oranges and orange juice. Whole grain breads and bran breakfast cereals, or any foods fortified with folic acid.