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Folic acid prepares you for a healthy conception and pregnancy, says an expert

Published on:23 August 2021, 08:00am IST
Folic acid is extremely important for our body but it is even more important when it comes to a healthy conception.
Shalini Chakraborty
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Folic acid
Folic acid is so important for a healthy conception! Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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Folic acid is a pregnancy superhero! Good and balanced nutrition is important during conception, which is why moms-to-be strive to get lots of fruit, veggies, whole grains and lean protein into their diets. And by now all would-be moms are likely to read about the importance of taking a daily prenatal vitamin — and one of the most important components of this wonder pill is folic acid. Folic acid is the synthetic version of folate, a B vitamin (specifically vitamin B9). Folate is found naturally in certain fruits, vegetables, and nuts, apart from vitamins and fortified cereals.

Folic acid and folate help the body to make healthy new red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen to all parts of the body. When the body doesn’t make enough red blood cells or blood cannot carry enough oxygen to the body, folate deficiency-related anemia could develop.

folic acid
Consuming folic acid plays an important role in healthy conception. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Why is folic acid so important during pregnancy?

In the first few weeks of pregnancy, folic acid helps the embryonic neural tube, the precursor to the foetus’ brain and spinal cord, to properly close. It also assists in the formation of an unborn baby’s heart and circulatory system and helps lower certain birth defect chances.

Since folic acid is water-soluble, the human body isn’t able to store an excess amount. Instead, it gets passed through urine, which is why the mother needs to regularly incorporate enough folic acid into the diet to avoid a deficiency. Since most birth defects develop in the first few weeks of pregnancy, it is especially important to get enough folic acid as early on as possible even prior to conception.

folic acid
Mothers-to-be must add folic acid to their diet! Image courtesy: Shutterstock
What are the benefits of folic acid during pregnancy?

Various researches have shown that when this nutrient is started in the months preceding pregnancy, it has important health benefits for expecting women and their babies. These include reducing the risk of:

Miscarriage: Research has shown that some women have trouble getting or staying pregnant because of a folic acid deficiency.

Neural tube defects: Birth defects that are linked to insufficient folic acid are Spina bifida, a spinal malformation; and Anencephaly, a type of brain damage and malformation, which causes the brain tissue to extend into the spinal canal.

Congenital heart defects: These conditions, which affect millions of babies a year, can include a hole in the heart’s wall, too-narrow valves or blood vessels that are incorrectly formed.

Preterm labour: A diet that’s rich in folic acid may help prevent labour before 37 weeks.

Cleft lip and palate: Folic acid may help prevent this mouth defect in which the lip has an opening in it and doesn’t form correctly.

Food Sources of folic acid

It’s vital to eat plenty of folate-rich foods for expecting moms since they’re also full of other important nutrients like fibre, calcium, vitamin A and vitamin C.

Some of the best food sources of folate to incorporate into diet includes dark leafy green vegetables (spinach, mustard greens, broccoli, asparagus, lettuce), avocado, legumes (beans and lentils), green peas, beets, papaya, banana and oranges, foods fortified with folic acid, including whole-grain cereal, bread, pasta and rice.

folic acid
Spinach is a very rich source of folic acid. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
How much folic acid is needed during reproductive ages?

Most women are advised to take a 400mcg supplement every day during pregnancy and prior to conception too. Folic acid can be obtained from some pregnancy multivitamin tablets. If followed, one needs to make sure the tablet does not contain vitamin A. High doses of vitamin A can cause developmental problems in the first three months of pregnancy. Taking folic acid after discovering pregnancy may not be soon enough. Many women don’t realize they are pregnant until 6 weeks or more after conception. If there is a medical history of delivering a child with a neural tube defect, higher doses of folic acid may be needed for the next pregnancy and during the first few months of pregnancy.

Higher doses of folic acid are recommended if the patient has a history of:

-Kidney disease and are on dialysis
-Sickle cell disease
-Liver disease
-Drink more than one alcoholic beverage daily
-Take medications to treat epilepsy, type 2 diabetes, lupus, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, or inflammatory bowel disease

If pregnancy is yet to be planned, consider adding a prenatal vitamin to your daily routine. Always talk to your physician about taking the correct dose of prenatal vitamins because taking too many supplements can be toxic for your baby-to-be. Expecting moms should also add foods fortified with folic acid to their daily diet. Consult your nutritionist to understand the best sources and right consumption of folic acid.

Shalini Chakraborty Shalini Chakraborty

Shalini Chakraborty is a Senior Executive Nutritionist, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Bengaluru (Bellandur)