Today the fact that a woman should increase her folic acid intake during pregnancy is well known. This helps prevent neural tube defects in the developing fetus and overall strengthens the mother’s body.
It’s fascinating to think that something people see as essential basic knowledge was discovered less than a century ago. Folate, the B vitamin from which folic acid is derived, was identified only in the1940s. However, healthcare professionals realized that women needed some specific element during pregnancy in the 1930s.
At that time, the anemia occurring in pregnant women was a source of many problems and tragedies. Doctors treated it with a yeast extract, but it took almost 10 years to identify the exact element that the anemic women’s diet was lacking.
Researchers singled out that elusive chemical in spinach leaves, and called it after the Latin word folium (leaf). Today we know this element as folate, a collective name for a specific group of chemical compounds with similar attributes. Folic acid is one of them, so, in a sense, these terms are interchangeable, like ‘vitamin A’ and ‘beta carotene’.
It’s imperative to ensure a healthy intake of folic acid during pregnancy because its deficiency causes neural tube defects (NTDs). They occur at the early stages of the fetus development and usually lead to permanent nerve damage. This might result in deformities, learning disabilities, and a variety of other birth defects.
Folic Acid Intake During Pregnancy: What’s the Right Amount?
The opinions on this matter vary quite a bit. However, the ‘generally accepted’ amount of folic acid a pregnant women needs during pregnancy is 600-800 mcg a day. It does not matter whether the element is ‘natural’ (comes from food) or ‘synthetic’ (comes from supplements and fortified products).
Many people believe that as B vitamins are present in most foods, extra supplementation of folic acid isn’t necessary. Obviously, its deficiency should be extremely rare, right?
Wrong, as obtaining a healthy amount of this vitamin from diet is quite hard. The best sources of it are leafy greens, liver, yeast, and legumes. Today, one can also buy a variety of folic acid fortified cereals.
However, eating these foods is usually not enough to ensure a healthy folic acid intake during pregnancy. Especially considering the fact that pregnant women shouldn’t consume much organ meat and yeast.
Folic Acid Deficiency Causes:
- Not enough folic acid in your diet.
- Malabsorption syndrome (your body can’t process the folic acid you consume).
- Alcoholism and other substance abuse (lead to the loss of folate and other nutrients).
- Taking drugs that affect nutrient absorption or ‘flush out’ folate (over-the-counter pain relievers, aspirin, etc.).
Taking Supplements to Boost Your Folic Acid Intake During Pregnancy
One of the most dangerous things about folic acid deficiency is that it often goes unnoticed. Its symptoms are mild and often mistaken for other issues. The symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, loss of appetite, which are all very common in pregnant women.
You also need to keep in mind that folic acid deficiency starts showing only after about 5 months of the actual drop in the folate levels. Therefore, many health practitioners advise women to start taking folic acid supplements before the conception to ‘prepare’ their bodies.
An extra dose of folic acid is often necessary, but you should always talk to your doctor about it. Consult with them about any superfoods and supplements for pregnant women you plan to take. You might need to take some tests to determine your levels of various nutrients.
Bear in mind that too much of something is never good. This is even more true when you are pregnant and need to maintain highly specific levels of nutrients. This is why it’s usually best to take ‘single’ supplements, like Nature Potent’s Folic Acid 800mcg than some multivitamins.