Folic Acid: A Much Needed Vitamin For Healthy Pregnancy
Pregnancy is one the most awaited time of a woman’s life. Becoming a mother is a beautiful transformation but this period is also the most demanding and a crucial stage. Proper care at this pivotal time determines the health and well-being of the to-be-born baby and the mother. Folic acid plays a vital role when it comes to pregnancy and dealing with its complications.
Folic acid (Vitamin B9) is water soluble B vitamin that every cell in our body needs for normal growth and development. Folate occurs naturally in food, and folic acid is the synthetic form of this vitamin.
We cannot synthesize folates de novo (in the body); therefore, it has to be supplied through the diet to meet the daily requirement. Folic acid plays an important role in:
1. Synthesis and repairing DNA
2. It acts as a co-factor in certain biological reactions
3. It aids in rapid cell division and growth, such as in infancy and pregnancy
4. Folate is necessary for fertility in both men and women
5. Folate is required to make red blood cells and white blood cells
Deficiency occurs as a result of a diet low in folic acid or in case of diseases interfering with absorption like Crohn’s disease or celiac disease. It can also occur as a side effect of certain medications or due to alcohol consumption. Symptoms indicating folic acid deficiency include glossitis, mouth sores and swollen tongue, depression, confusion, forgetfulness or other cognitive deficits, macrocytic anemia with weakness or shortness of breath, nerve damage and limb numbness.
It becomes crucial for all women of child bearing age to maintain their folic acid levels before and after conception because deficiency of folate is associated with complications in pregnancy and birth defects such as:
1. Folate deficiency during pregnancy increases the risk of preterm delivery, infant low birth weight and fetal growth retardation.
2. The most common complication is neural tube defects in developing embryos. The neural tube is the part of a developing baby that becomes the brain and spinal cord. An NTD can happen when the neural tube doesn’t close completely, during the first few weeks of pregnancy resulting in malformations of the spine, skull, and brain.
The deficiency of folic acid can be prevented by eating including good amount of folic rich foods in the pregnancy diet. Avocado, spinach, liver, yeast, asparagus, and brussels, are among the foods with the highest levels of folate. Other sources include vegetables (particularly dark green leafy vegetables), citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit, nuts like peanuts, dairy products, eggs and whole grains.
Folic acid supplementation along with healthy pregnancy diet is also important as only through diet the levels cannot be matched:
1. Women with no health risks and planned pregnancy require (0.4-1.0 mg) of folic acid with multivitamins, for at least two to three months before conception and throughout pregnancy and as well as the postpartum period (4-6 weeks and as long as breastfeeding continues).
2. Women with health condition like insulin dependent diabetes, obesity, or those with a previous child in the family with a neural tube defect require daily supplementation of 5 mg folic acid with multivitamins beginning at least three months before conception and continuing until 10 to 12 weeks post conceptions.
Supplementation with folic acid has also been shown to reduce the risk of congenital heart defects, narrowing of the lower stomach valve, oral facial clefts (like cleft lip and cleft palate) limb defects, and urinary tract anomalies in the new born babies. Folic acid supplements may also protect the foetus against disease when the mother is battling a disease or taking medications or smoking during pregnancy.
In this crucial period of pregnancy, make sure you follow healthy pregnancy diet to get the essential dose of folic acid as it is crucial to the well being of you and your child.