In recognition of January’s National Folic Acid Awareness Week, it is worth hearing and learning about the role of this compound in the body. Folic acid benefits pregnant and nursing mothers, and their babies. This is in addition to several other benefits described below.
Folic Acid Awareness Week
January 2-8, 2023 is nationally recognized as Folic Acid Awareness Week.
This is a delineation of the CDC’s National Birth Defects Prevention Month, which has been in place since 1997.
A Look At Folic Acid and the Body
Folate is the technical term for all forms of vitamin B9, a vitamin vital to your health, especially women. Folic acid is the synthetic version of folate and it is a commonly recommended supplement with several different specific uses. Folate occurs naturally in leafy vegetables, fruits, beans, and other plant-based foods. Many foods now contain folic acid, since they do not have ingredients that would naturally contain folate.
Folate, or folic acid, supports the heart in multiple ways. Vitamin B9 contributes to cardiovascular health, as well as brain and neural health. Its most crucial role is in supporting cell production.
Folic acid plays a critical role in the development of the neural tube in fetuses at 4-6 weeks into pregnancy. This is a critical phase of growth for the neural tube, because this is where the earliest growth of the brain and spinal cord take place. If a newly pregnant woman is deficient in folate, then the baby will be at risk of the spinal condition known as spina bifida.
Benefits of Taking Folic Acid
Folic acid can be commonly found as an oral supplement. It is offered stand-alone, and is also found in some prenatal supplements. Here is a look at some of the reasons to supplement with folic acid.
Preventing birth defects: Supplementing with folic acid helps prevent the neural tube defects that are associated with folate deficiency. This means a better chance of preventing spina bifida and anencephaly in newborn babies. Folic acid supplements can also help prevent preeclampsia, a known pregnancy complication. It is best to supplement with folic acid before conception, and in the first 2 months of pregnancy when the neural tube is developing.
Women at risk of neural tube complications: Certain categories of women are at an increased risk of having a pregnancy with neural tube defects, such as those who were born with a neural birth defect or have already had a child born with such a defect. These women and their babies can greatly benefit from taking folic acid. Those at higher risk also include women who are diabetic or have been taking certain seizure medications.
Preventing blood vessel disease and stroke: Folic acid can work in tandem with vitamins B6 and B12 to manage levels of homocysteine in the blood, including such levels that are already too high. Because elevated homocysteine levels are related to cardiovascular disease, supplementing with folic acid could help prevent such diseases.
Brain health: Low blood folate levels have been shown to correspond with decreased mental function and increased risk of dementia. Conversely, consistent and long-term folic acid supplementation has been correlated with improved brain function, and a reduction in the levels of certain blood proteins that are related to Alzheimer’s disease.
Folic acid is the synthetic and commonly recommended version of vitamin B9. Supplementing with folic acid can be absolutely crucial for pregnant women and their babies. It is also useful for cardiovascular and brain health. Talk to your medical care provider about taking folic acid.