Everyone needs folate (vitamin B9, or folic acid), but it is especially important when you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant.1
Folate is used by the body for DNA replication (cell division) and in the production of amino acids and vitamins.1 Since it is necessary for the formation of red blood cells, folate deficiency leads to anemia. During pregnancy the need for folate is higher than normal since it is also required for growth and proper development of the fetus.1
Several studies have shown that a daily intake of folic acid before and during pregnancy can reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) by up to 72%.2 NTDs are among the most common birth defects, contributing to miscarriage, infant mortality and severe congenital abnormalities.1 Since folate supplement was introduced as a recommendation to women worldwide, the number of children born with NTDs has dropped significantly.1 The finding that folate can reduce NTDs is one of the rare instances in which science has been able to identify preventable causes of birth defects.3
Folate is a vitamin B found naturally in food, while folic acid is an artificially produced folate that is used as food fortifier and in dietary supplements. Folic acid is more easily absorbed by the body than the folate form.3
Egg yolk, dark green leafy vegetables (e.g. asparagus, broccoli, spinach and avocado) and various kinds of cabbage, beans, chickpeas, lentils, sunflower seeds, fruits and berries are examples of foods high in folate. The vitamin is heat sensitive and can be easily destroyed by prolonged heating, so fresh vegetables are preferred.4 However, to get enough folic acid during pregnancy, supplements are usually recommended.
Amino acids = The building blocks of proteins
Vitamin B = A group of eight water soluble vitamins. Vitamins are essential nutrients that cannot be produced by the body and hence have to be obtained from food.
Congenital abnormality = Malformation present from birth
NTD (neural tube disorder) = Birth defects of the brain, spine, or spinal cord. The malformations arise when the neural tube fails to close during early embryo development.
Folic Acid Supplementation and Pregnancy: More Than Just Neural Tube Defect Prevention. Rev Obstet Gynecol. 2011; 4(2); 52–59. James A Greenberg, MD, Stacey J Bell, DSc, RD, Yong Guan, MD, and Yan-hong Yu, MD, PhD
Prevention of neural tube defects: Results of the Medical Research Council Vitamin Study. The Lancet, 1991, Volume 338, Issue 8760; 131-137. MRC VITAMIN STUDY RESEARCH GROUP
Folates for reduction of risk of neural tube defects: using oral contraceptives as a source of folate. Journal of Contraception 2011:2 137–150 Anita L Nelson
EFSA 2010, Folic acid: An update on scientific developments, ISSN 1725-9843
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