What is Folic Acid?
Folic acid (folate or vitamin B9) is an essential nutrient found in leafy green vegetables, fruit, dried beans and peas.
It is also artificially added to flour used in enriched breads, cereals, pasta, rice and other grain products.
Folate, along with the other B vitamins, is crucial to:
• convert food (carbohydrates) into fuel (glucose), which the body uses for energy
• proper brain function, and plays an important role in mental and emotional health
• production of DNA and RNA
• rapidly growing cells and tissues
• making red blood cells and the body using iron properly
• preventing neural tube defects
Fact and Stats about Neural Tube Defects
The neural tube “is the part of a developing baby that becomes the brain and spinal cord. When the neural tube does not close properly, a baby is born with a very serious birth defect called a neural tube defect (NTD).” (1)
Neural tube defects include spina bifida, where the spinal cord and/or a sac filled with fluid protrude through an opening in the back (5), and anencephaly, where a baby is born without the front part of the brain and the cerebrum, the thinking and coordinating part of the brain.
If the baby is born with any parts of the brain missing they are usually not covered by bone or skin. Almost all babies born with anencephaly die shortly after birth. (6)
According to the March of Dimes about 3,000 pregnancies are affected by neural tube defects each year in the United States.
Adequate amounts of folic acid can also protect against:
• Cleft lip and palate
• Preeclampsia (when folic acid supplements are taken during the second trimester)
• Premature birth (women who took folic acid for at least 12 months prior to pregnancy decreased their chances of delivering early by 50 percent or more)
• Low birth weight
• Poor in-uterine growth
Recommended Folic Acid Intake Levels
The CDC recommends that all women of childbearing years consume 400 micrograms of folic acid every day.