Studies on folic acid and pregnancy show that the vitamin can help prevent neural tube defects. There is also some research suggesting that high levels of folic acid may help reduce the risk of recurrent miscarriages. It is important to start taking the vitamin before conception, but if you have not been taking it and pregnancy occurs, start taking folic acid as soon as possible.
Folic Acid and Pregnancy: An Overview
If you are pregnant, you have no doubt been instructed about the importance of getting enough folic acid. However, did you know that it is just as important (if not more so) to take folic acid before conception? The benefits of folic acid for preventing birth defects have long been known, but recently, there is interest in using folic acid to prevent or treat other complications of pregnancy.
Folic Acid and Birth Defects
Folic acid is important for preventing neural tube defects such as spina bifida. This is most important just before conception and during the first trimester. Although prenatal vitamins contain folic acid, it is important to start taking this product before conception occurs.
Since so many pregnancies are unplanned, it is usually recommended that all women of childbearing potential take 400 mcg of folic acid daily (usually through a multivitamin), just in case. There is no need to panic if you have not been taking folic acid, though, since many foods in the United States have been fortified with it. Even if you haven't been taking folic acid, you are probably getting some from your diet.
The recommended dietary intake (RDA) of folic acid for pregnant women is 600 mcg per day. Many prenatal vitamins (especially ones available by prescription only) contain more, as much as 1000 mcg (1 mg) per day.
In special circumstances, even higher doses may be recommended. For instance, if you have had a baby with a neural tube defect, your healthcare provider may recommend as much as 4 mg (4000 mcg) per day. Higher doses may also be recommended for women taking certain medications, such as seizure medications.
Written by/reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last reviewed by: KristiMonson, PharmD;
List of references (click here):
Jellin JM, editor. Pharmacist's Letter/Prescriber's Letter Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database Web site. Available at: http://naturaldatabase.com/. Accessed January 25, 2008.
National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements. Dietary supplement fact sheet: folate (8/22/2005). NIH Web site. Available at: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/folate.asp. Accessed January 25, 2008.
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