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Folic Acid: How Much Should You Take?

Por Lic. Isabel C. Rodríguez R.* -

Most women take special care of themselves when they find out they’re pregnant to ensure that their baby develops properly and is born without complications.

This, of course, is the right thing to do. However, many women don’t know that the first month of pregnancy is critical for the formation of the neural tube (the structure that later becomes the brain and the spinal cord). For this process to occur successfully, the mother needs to consume a sufficient amount of folic acid priorto pregnancy. This way her body has the nutrients it needs to provide to the baby, as soon as it begins to develop.

Waiting until becoming pregnant to take folic acid may be too late. Most women aren’t usually sure they’re pregnant until after the first four weeks, however, by the 29th day of gestation, the neural tube is already formed.

Folic acid can also prevent congenital defects in the formation of the mouth and face, such as hare-lips. Some recent studies have also associated folic acid with the prevention of Down syndrome. Folic acid also helps form the placenta, as well as new blood cells. Some studies demonstrate a relationship between folic acid and a reduced risk of heart disease and colon cancer. This is why researchers are recommending everyone take folic acid, not just women of child-bearing age.

What foods contain folic acid?

Folic acid is a B complex vitamin. You can find it in its natural state (folate) in food, and in synthetic form in multivitamins or specially enriched foods.

Folate-rich foods include oranges, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, lentils, avocadoes, and green leafy vegetables (like spinach and broccoli). Also, since 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has required that bread, tortillas, cookies, pastas, and breakfast cereals also be enriched with this vitamin.

Is a varied diet enough?

Folate (folic acid in its natural state) is not as easily absorbed by the body as the synthetic form found in supplements. And, cooking and storing food can lower folic acid levels.

Women of child-bearing age are encouraged to increase their folic acid intake through taking supplements. If all women of child-bearing age consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily, approximately 70% of neural tube defects could be prevented. Although the latest research recommends 0.4 mg (400 micrograms) of folic acid daily, women of child-bearing age should take it in synthetic form only as recommended by their doctor.

*Nutritionist from The MyDiet™ Team
President of the Venezuelan Society of Nutritional Education


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