Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Significance of Folic Acid for Pregnant Women

One of the first things I do when we see a pregnant woman in the clinic is to start her on a daily prenatal vitamin. I also start any woman on prenatal vitamins if she comes in and tells me that she’s planning to become pregnant.

Since 50 percent of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, the reality is that women of childbearing age should be on a good multivitamin at all times.

Why is it so critical for women to be on a good multivitamin or prenatal vitamin at the time that they become pregnant?

It’s all in the folic acid
Folic acid is a B vitamin (vitamin B9, to be precise). Folic acid can be found naturally in things like green leafy vegetables, orange juice, and enriched grains, but it can also easily be taken as a supplement and is found in most multivitamins or prenatal vitamins. Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that adequate folic acid supplementation helps prevent neural tube defects in the fetus of the pregnant woman.

Neural tube defects
These imperfections are caused by an incomplete development of the brain or spinal cord. They include:

spina bifida – incomplete closure of the spine
anencephaly – incomplete development of the brain
encephalocele – protrusion of the brain out of an opening in the skull
Why does folic acid help?

It’s not fully understood why folic acid prevents neural tube defects like these, but it’s clear that supplementation is helpful. Women without any risk factors for neural tube defects (no personal or family history, no use of anti-seizure drugs) should take 0.4 mg daily. Women with risk factors (personal or family history, use of anti-seizure drugs) should take 10 times this amount or 4 mg daily.