Folic acid is a water soluble B-vitamin that helps build healthy cells. "Water soluble" means it does not stay in your body for very long, so you need to take it every day to help prevent neural tube defects.
During periods of rapid growth, such as pregnancy and fetal development, the body's requirement for this vitamin increases.
There Are Two Different Forms Of Folic Acid:
Synthetic form. This form is found in:
- fortified bread and grain products, like breakfast cereals
- folic acid prescriptions (Women at increased risk for spina bifida need a prescription for folic acid. Please speak with your health care provider.)
- leafy green vegetables, such as broccoli and spinach
- some fruits and juices, like orange juice
- Our bodies absorb the synthetic form of folic acid more easily than the natural form.
SBAA advises the 60 million women of childbearing age not to depend on food alone for folic acid. SBAA urges women to follow the 1992 U.S. Public Health Service folic acid recommendations which are; Women who could become pregnant should take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid through a vitamin. (This amount is also written as 0.4 milligrams (mg).) Women at increased risk for spina bifida should take 4000 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid by prescription for 1 to 3 months before becoming pregnant. (This amount is also written as 4.0 milligrams (mg).)
Many things can affect a baby, including family genes and things women may come in contact with during pregnancy. Taking folic acid cannot guarantee having a healthy baby, but it can help. Since NTDs occur early in pregnancy, often before a woman knows she is pregnant, it is important to take folic acid every day. Taking folic acid before and during early pregnancy reduces the risk of spina bifida and other neural tube defects.
Recent Prevention Studies
Randomized control trials and observational studies have shown that if all women who could become pregnant were to take a multivitamin with the B-vitamin folic acid, the risk of neural tube defects could be reduced by up to 75%. For women at higher risk for spina bifida or other neural tube defects, an increased level of folic acid is recommended by prescription. Research has shown that 4000 micrograms of folic acid reduces the risk of neural tube defects for these women.*
*Reference: JAMA 2001;285:2981-2986