The Importance of Folic Acid
Laurie Erickson, MD, is vice chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix Ariz.
Question: We are trying to start a family and I want to make sure I’m taking the right vitamins. How important is folic acid?
Answer: Folic acid is the synthetic version of folate, a naturally occurring vitamin found in foods like beef, liver, legumes, green, leafy vegetables, fortified cereals, and oranges. Folic acid is an important and beneficial supplement a woman should take during pregnancy. Neural tube defects, or defects in the spine, are the second most common birth defect in the U.S., and studies have shown that taking folic acid can decrease the risk of a spinal defect by about 50 percent.
Women trying to get pregnant should begin taking folic acid at least one month prior to conception and then through at least the first trimester. And because half of all U.S. pregnancies are unplanned, women of child-bearing age should take a folic acid supplement as a protective measure.
For the average woman, the recommended dose of folic acid is 0.4 milligrams daily, an amount found in all prenatal vitamins. Women in higher risk categories, such as those who have had a child with a neural tube defect or those who suffer from seizures, should take 4 milligrams daily. In this case, a woman would take one prenatal vitamin and then an additional supplement of folic acid. Taking more than one prenatal vitamin a day can be harmful to both mother and baby.