Everyone needs folic acid, but it’s especially important for women of child-bearing age. Folic acid, a B vitamin, helps the body make new healthy cells. Our bodies constantly require cell regeneration—think skin, hair and nails. During pregnancy, however, folic acid is crucial in the development of a baby’s DNA.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all adults, particularly women, take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. Women trying to have a baby should start taking 400 mcg at least one month prior to conceiving and continue for the duration of your pregnancy. Roughly half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, so it’s a good idea for women to take folic acid even if they aren’t actively trying to conceive.
Why is folic acid so important for women?
Folic acid can help prevent birth defects in a baby’s brain and spine. Anencephaly is a serious neural-tube defect (NTD), in which the baby is born without parts of the brain or skull. Anencephaly happens when the upper part of the neural tube does not close fully. Spina bifida can occur anywhere along the spine if the neural tube does not close completely, and may cause severe intellectual and physical disabilities, including paralysis.
Is folic acid found in food?
The Food and Drug Administration requires enriched grain products, such as flour, pasta and cereal, to be fortified with folic acid. Since the regulation took effect in 1998, the number of NTDs, including anencephaly and spinal bifida, has decreased 35 percent.
Is folic acid the same as folate?
Folic acid and folate are different forms of the same water-soluble B vitamin. Folate occurs naturally in foods such as dark leafy greens, asparagus, citrus fruits or juices, beans and lentils. It’s difficult to get enough folate in your diet to prevent NTDs. Pregnant women should consume 400 mcg of folic acid each day on top of eating a folate-rich diet.
How do I get enough folic acid?
- Take a daily multivitamin, most of which contain the recommended amount of folic acid.
- Take a folic acid supplement if you don’t want to take a multivitamin.
- Eat a bowl of cereal that has 100 percent of your recommended daily value of folic acid. Check the nutrition label or read this list of cereals packed with folic acid.
Stick to 400 mcg of folic acid in a vitamin or supplement form, unless your provider advises a higher amount.
How can I remember my daily supplement?
Make a habit of taking your daily vitamin or supplement at the same time each day. Try building it into your routine. For example, take folic acid before brushing your teeth, while eating breakfast or after showering. Leave the vitamin bottle in a visible area such as the kitchen or bathroom counter to serve as a reminder. Or, consider setting a daily alarm on your phone.