Folic acid is a B vitamin that is used by the body to make new cells. While folic acid is extremely important for all individuals, it is especially important for women who could become pregnant. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all women get 400 micrograms of folic acid everyday. Pregnant women should aim to get between 600 and 800 micrograms of folic acid per day.
Folic Acid and Pregnancy
Taking folic acid in the period before conception and during the early stages of pregnancy has been shown to help prevent neural tube birth defects. These defects include malformations of the spine, skull, and brain. Since many women do not know they are pregnant until a few weeks have passed, it is important to begin a folic acid regimen before becoming pregnant. The first few weeks of fetus development are considered to be the most important for the development of the brain and nervous system.
Men are not exempt from taking folic acid. Men planning on fathering children should also make sure to get adequate amounts of folic acid, since it increases their fertility and decreases chromosomal defects in their semen.
Getting the Recommended Amount of Folic Acid
One of the best ways to get the recommended amount of folic acid is to take a daily multivitamin that contains 100% of the daily recommended amount. Multivitamins provide many of the vitamins and minerals that are essential to optimal health, but which are often lacking in our diets. A separate folic acid supplement can be taken if the chosen multivitamin does not contain the recommended dose or if you choose not to take a multivitamin.
Where to Find Folic Acid
Folic acid is also found in many common food items. Vegetables like spinach, turnips, lettuce, dried beans, and peas are all good sources of folic acid. Other options include fortified cereals, sunflower sees, liver, bakers yeast, Vegemite, and other fruits and vegetables.
Additional Benefits of Folic Acid
In addition to preventing birth defects, folic acid has a number of other health benefits. It has been shown the having adequate amounts of folic acid in your system can help reduce the risk of both heart disease and stroke. It can also help prevent and treat mild depression.