Folic acid during pregnancy: during a relaxing visit to Washington D.C. last April, my husband and I had the pleasure of catching up with one of his old friends over dinner. His friend Jon is an accomplished writer, historian, and professor emeritus, and he explained something quite profound to us over that dinner: he keeps his hair from turning grey by taking folic acid. It caught my interest as he swore over and over that it works.
You have surely heard of folic acid (also called folate) before, as I had prior to Jon’s mentioning it, but I really had no clue what it was exactly. I found myself very interested to know where it came from and why it would keep his hair from turning gray, so I went home and did some research. What I found were some amazing benefits that come from taking folic acid, especially for pregnant women.
Understanding Folic Acid
During pregnancy, the neural tube is responsible for the development of the unborn baby’s spinal cord and brain. In order to do this properly, it needs adequate amounts of red blood cells, but that supply is insufficient when the mother’s body is deficient in folate. The result of this deficiency is a variety of neural tube defects including spina bifida and anencephaly. Other problems that can occur as a result of a deficiency in this B9 vitamin include cleft palate, premature birth or miscarriage, and low birth weight. Women can reduce the chances of these complications by as much as 70% simply by consuming enough folic acid during pregnancy
When to Take It
Any woman of childbearing age who has even the slightest chance of becoming pregnant should be taking folic acid during pregnancy This is because birth defects often take place within the first month of pregnancy and most women who are not planning a pregnancy do not realize they are even pregnant in that time frame. If they are not taking folic acid prior to the pregnancy as a safety measure, they are putting their baby at risk of defects.
Women of childbearing age need 400 micrograms daily. During pregnancy, they should increase their intake to 600 micrograms and continue while breastfeeding with at least 500 micrograms.
How to Get Folic Acid During pregnancy
It isn’t difficult to consume folate through ordinary foods, since it can be found in all of these common sources: green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, bananas, asparagus, peanuts, pasta, bread, cereal, rice, beans, lentils, and peas.
Here is a quick list to get a good idea of which foods contain the most folic acid:
1 cup of raw spinach = 60 micrograms
½ cup frozen green peas (boiled) = 50 micrograms
2 spears raw broccoli = 45 micrograms
½ cup sliced raw avocado = 45 micrograms
1-ounce dry roasted peanuts = 40 micrograms
If you are worried that you can’t get in 400 micrograms of folate every day, find a multivitamin that includes that amount. Some women may also opt to take prenatal vitamins that include a full daily dose of folate, especially if they are trying to conceive.
What are the Side Effects?
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a recommendation that women get no more than 1,000 micrograms a day through supplements. The good news is that even at higher doses, folic acid is not toxic.
There are some very minor side effects that may be experienced from higher daily doses of folate supplements. For instance, some people report increased flatulence, insomnia, nausea, and a drastic decrease in appetite. For most women, a lower dose can be recommended by a doctor, but the side effects are generally more bearable than a neural tube defect.