Importance of folic acid in fertility and in prevention of birth defects

Folic acid is important for pregnant and lactating mothers. But what is the right way to consume it? We have everything you need to know!

Folic acid, a synthetic form of the nutrient folate, is a B-vitamin required for healthy cell development. It aids in the formation of healthy red blood cells and helps make DNA and other genetic material. It is especially important to ensure prenatal health. When compared to the naturally occurring form of folate, folic acid is more stable in food storage and preparation, and is better absorbed. It is therefore utilized in supplementation and dietary fortification.

If consumed before and during early pregnancy, folic acid can prevent up to 70% of major brain and spine birth abnormalities known as neural tube defects (NTDs). The neural tube is responsible for the formation of the early brain and spine. When the neural tube fails to seal correctly, NTDs develop. These birth problems appear early in pregnancy, usually before a woman realizes she is expecting. Folate deficiency can cause spinal cord abnormalities in the child, since the spinal cord is one of the earliest sections of the body to develop.

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Don’t miss out on folic acid to have a healthy child. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Every year, an estimated 8 million infants worldwide are born with a birth defect, with about 300,000 of them dying as a result of complications. In India, a significant reduction in infant mortality due to infectious illness and malnutrition has been observed during the previous two decades. However, the mortality rate associated with birth abnormalities has remained steady.

The studies on the occurrence of birth abnormalities such as neural tube defects and orofacial clefts in the country have yielded mixed results. As per existing data, it can be estimated that the overall pooled birth prevalence of neural tube defects in India is 4.5 per 1000 total births.

How can one avoid these issues with folic acid?

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following to help avoid several serious birth abnormalities of the baby’s brain and spine:

  • All women of reproductive age take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid per day, in addition to ingesting folate-rich foods from a diverse diet
  • Even when a woman is not planning pregnancy, they should develop the habit of taking folic acid on a regular basis. This is because many pregnancies are unplanned and it is important for this vitamin to be present before one gets pregnant.

Moreover, even without pregnancy, folic acid consumption is a healthy habit since it can contribute to the healthy new cells that the body makes every day.

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You need to have folic acid regularly at least 12 weeks before planning pregnancy. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Here’s what you must keep in mind about folic acid
  • It is advisable to take a folic acid supplement containing 400 micrograms each day from 12 weeks before conception through the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Since there are various doses of these supplements available over the counter at pharmacies, one should look for folic acid supplements that contain at least the recommended amount.
  • It is to be noted that multivitamin supplements usually include a lesser amount of folic acid.
  • Pregnant and lactating women have higher folate requirements and should consume 500-600 micrograms of folate daily, respectively.

To sum it up, one can refer to the list below:

  • 400 mcg for men and women above the age of 14 years
  • 500 mcg for breastfeeding women
  • 600 mcg for pregnant women
The last word

In addition to this, foods high in folate, such as green leafy vegetables, broccoli, oranges, avocado, or fortified breads and cereals, are also helpful. Before beginning to use any new supplements, one should consult their doctor or nutritionist and check for allergic reactions.

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Remember that consuming folic acid plays an important role in healthy conception. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

For any woman looking for recommendations of supplements for fertility, folic acid always comes as one of the important suggestions. Both before and after conception, folic acid can have a significant impact on female fertility. Since folic acid is known to have a positive impact on cell metabolism throughout the body, it does make its impact on the ovaries. It can help avoid early pregnancy abnormalities, which can lead to miscarriage in women, who are having trouble conceiving.

Folate is also important for stress and inflammation in the body. Stressors can affect a woman’s capacity to conceive, ranging from advanced maternal age to lifestyle choices like smoking. Appropriate folic acid levels in one’s diet can assist to mitigate the consequences of this stress.

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