If you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant, you’re probably familiar with folic acid benefits already. If not—read this and go out and get some immediately! Folic acid (vitamin B9) helps our bodies regenerate new cells for healthy hair, skin, nails and much more. It’s recommended that all women of childbearing age take 400 mcg per day. Folic acid is particularly important during pregnancy because it can reduce your baby’s odds of having major brain or spinal defects by up to 70%.
Women are recommended to take prenatal vitamins if they expect to become pregnant and during pregnancy
Here are reasons why folic acid needs your attention.
- Folic acid and autism
Studies have shown that taking a folate supplement starting four weeks before conception and throughout pregnancy can reduce the risk for your child developing autism.
Alycia Halladay, Ph.D. and Jill James, Ph.D. of Autism Speaks point out that although some studies show folic acid can help prevent autism, it’s a complicated disorder with many variables. They caution moms-to-be not to rely too heavily on these results.
- You can have too much of a good thing
Check with your doctor on how much folic acid you should be taking before and during pregnancy, and while breastfeeding. Keep in mind that it’s naturally present in some foods and, since 1998, folic acid has been added to most enriched flours, cornmeal, pasta and rice in the which increases the average daily intake by 100 mcg. Too much folic acid has been associated with renal and respiratory issues as well as an increased risk for autism. There’s also a possibility it could increase you or your child’s risk for colorectal and other cancers.
- Get your folates naturally
A healthy diet is important when you’re expecting so be sure to include these folic acid-rich foods: cooked lentils, eggs, spinach, asparagus, avocado and broccoli.
- Folic acid-rich fruits
Indulge in plenty of B9 fruits like mango, oranges, cantaloupe, pomegranate, papaya and bananas.
- Folic acid benefits athletes too
A recent study found that folic acid may help protect athletes engaging in high intensity exercise from cardiovascular disease by reducing circulating homocysteine.
- Some medications decrease folic acid levels
Medications like methotrexate, phenytoin, trimethoprim and birth control can reduce folate levels. Smoking and alcohol can too, but those shouldn’t be an issue for pregnant women, right?
- Folate deficiency can cause anemia
One of the causes of megaloblastic anemia—when the red blood cells are abnormally large—is folate deficiency. Luckily, the treatment is simple—more folic acid in your diet.
When you might need extra folic acid
- Women who are obese appear to be more likely to have a baby with a neural tube defect. If you’re significantly overweight, see your healthcare provider before you try to conceive. She may advise you to take more than 400 mcg of folic acid a day.
- If you’ve previously been pregnant with a baby with a neural tube defect, you’ll probably be advised to take 4,000 mcg of folic acid a day. Be sure your current providers are aware of your history and schedule a visit before you try to get pregnant.
- If you’re carrying twins, your healthcare provider may recommend you take as much as 1,000 mcg of folic acid per day.
- Some people have a genetic variation – known as a methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) mutation – that makes it more difficult to process folate and folic acid. If you know you have this mutation, talk with your doctor to make sure you’re getting enough folic acid.
- Women who are diabetic or are taking certain antiseizure medications are also more likely to have a baby with an NTD. If either of these situations applies to you, see your provider at least a month before trying to conceive to find out how much folic acid you should be taking and to monitor your condition in general.