We often hear about folic acid and how necessary it is in pregnancy. What exactly is folic acid, where do we find it, and why is it so important before and during pregnancy?
Folic acid: benefits
Folic acid is a B complex vitamin, namely B9. It is very beneficial for our body, as it helps in the synthesis of new cells. In addition, folic acid helps us face anemia, but also other conditions such as liver and kidney problems, ulcerative colitis, hearing loss due to age, etc. (1)
Folic acid in foods
Folic acid is found mostly in plant foods such as vegetables (leafy greens, asparagus, turnips, beetroot), legumes (mainly safflower), citrus fruit, whole grains, but also in eggs and liver (caution, the latter should be avoided during pregnancy).
Folic acid and pregnancy
Perhaps the first thing that comes to mind when we hear about folic acid is pregnancy and not unfair! According to the British Dietetic Association (BDA) and many other organisations, folic acid is vital for:
- The synthesis and repair of DNA and RNA
- Cell division and growth
- Enhancing brain function (2)
It is therefore very important to take folic acid in pregnancy, as it contributes to the healthy development of the neural tube, from which the brain and the spinal cord will emerge! This reduces the chances of any development problems.
Indeed, the discovery of the importance of folic acid in pregnancy occurred about 80 years ago when Dr. Lucy Wills observed that some women, as long as their newborns, had a high frequency of anemia as compared to some others.(3)
The difference was found in their diet, as those who did not have anemia consumed many vegetables. In addition, when consuming aqueous vegetable extracts, cases of anemia and problems in the neonatal central nervous system were reduced. Thus, they managed to identify the responsible substance, which was no other than folic acid (3).
Folic acid before pregnancy
Nowadays, many international organizations urge all women of reproductive age to take 400 mcg of folic acid a day, because very often a pregnancy is not scheduled, and also in the first month a woman usually does not realize she is pregnant. (4)
Such a move is of paramount importance given that problems with the spine or the brain appear very early, about the first 3-4 weeks of conception. So when a woman takes folic acid, this helps in the healthy development of the fetal neural tube, which occurs very early in pregnancy.
Indeed, there are some countries enriching their flour with folic acid, so that women of reproductive age, which is the main target, can get the amount of this vitamin they need. Thus, countries such as Britain, the USA, Canada, enrich the bread, and many breakfast cereals with folic acid.
Folate or Folic Acid?
Some call it folate while others folic acid. But what is their difference? Folate is naturally found in foods, while folic acid is the synthetic form commonly found in food supplements or fortified foods.
Consult your doctor about its consumption and start taking it if you are trying for a child so you can be sure your body is well-equipped!
At Vita4you.gr you will find a great variety of supplements with folic acid.