Why is Folic Acid So Important?

By Dana Hardek January 27, 2017

If you’re pregnant or you’re thinking about becoming pregnant soon, then you’ve probably heard about folic acid, a B vitamin that’s critical to the nervous system development of fetuses.

So … What Exactly Does It Do?
Folic acid helps to prevent birth defects of both the spinal cord and brain, such as anencephaly and spina bifida. These neutral tube defects affect around 3,000 pregnancies every year. Since the neural tube is one of the first parts of the embryo to form, many women may not even know that they’re expecting during this very early stage of pregnancy. Taking folic acid before you become pregnant is key.

You should take a daily vitamin with 300 mcg of folic acid if you’re of childbearing age (even if you don’t plan on becoming pregnant). If you are planning on becoming pregnant, your doctor can prescribe prenatal vitamins that include folic acid. You’ll continue to take it throughout your pregnancy, too. Folic acid may also prevent other birth defects like cleft palates and cleft lips.

What is the Difference between Folic Acid and Folate?
Folate is found naturally in certain foods, like green, leafy vegetables. Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate that is placed into vitamins and some fortified foods, like bread, rice, cereal, and flour. While it’s important to take a multivitamin that contains folic acid, you should also eat foods rich in folate to ensure that you have enough to help prevent neural tube defects, should you become pregnant.

What Foods Contain Folate?
In addition to a prenatal vitamin, you should also eat foods that are high in folate. These include vegetables like edamame, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, asparagus, and artichokes, as well as beans, lentils, peas, and sunflower seeds.  

If you plan on becoming pregnant within the next six months, visit your primary care doctor or an obstetrician to ensure you’re taking a multivitamin with folic acid. These vitamins are available as pills, liquids, and chewable tablets. Remember, before talking any supplements, talk to your doctor about your options.