The importance of folic acid

What is folic acid?

Folic acid is a vitamin in the 'B' group, which has been found to be especially important in the prevention of neural-tube defects such as spina bifida (a fault in the spinal column in which one or more vertebrae do not form properly, leaving a gap or split, causing damage to the central nervous system) and anencephaly (neural tube defect which affects the skull and, as there is no treatment, frequently results in stillbirth, or death of the baby after a few days).

A report in the U.S showed that a national campaign aimed at raising the folate status of women of childbearing age has apparently achieved its targeted goal, except amongst black women. The US Public Health Service (PHS) recommended that women of childbearing age consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily to reduce the incidence of spina bifida or other neural tube defects (NTDs). To achieve this, food fortification and educational efforts were extensively promoted to raise awareness of this issue.

Kimmy Holman, an RN in Labor and Delivery at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo commented, "You want to be taking folic acid for a few weeks before getting pregnant because the chances of your child getting spina bifida will be lowered by almost 40 percent. It will not hurt the mother to take folic acid before getting pregnant. If anything, the folic acid will benefit her general health and the child because these developments in the child take place before she's even sure she is pregnant."

Good sources of folic acid:-

N.B. m = micro. Aim for 400mg per day for pre-pregnancy and the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Folic Acid Content
1 helping of fortified cornflakes (40g)
100m g
1 helping of fortified branflakes (40g)
3 slices of white bread (90g)
3 slices of wholemeal bread (105g)
1 pint of milk
1 helping of boiled potatoes (180g)
1 helping of boiled frozen peas (100g)
1 helping of boiled green beans (90g)
1 helping of Brussels sprouts (90g)
1 helping of boiled cauliflower (90g)
1 helping of boiled spinach (90g)
1 orange (160g)
1 banana (100g)
1 half grapefruit (80g)
1 slice of melon (180g)
1 helping of spaghetti (230g)
A small packet of peanuts (30g)
Yeast extract (eg 4g on a slice of bread)

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Spina Bifida Association
National Council on Folic Acid - information on children's health & diseases
The Fetal Medicine Foundation
Birth defects - list of useful resources
The Genesis Fund - funding for diagnosis and treatment of children born with birth defects, mental retardation, and genetic disorders.
NHS Direct - 24-hour nurse-led helpline with confidential healthcare advice and information