What is folic acid?
Folic acid is a B vitamin. Like most vitamins, it cannot be made in the body, so it must be either taken as food or by means of a folic acid supplement in tablet form.
Who needs to take folic acid?
All women of child bearing age, especially if there is any possibility of becoming pregnant.
Why do I need folic acid?
Taking extra folic acid before becoming pregnant and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy can help reduce the risk of your baby developing a neural tube defect (NTD).
What are neural tube defects?
NTDs are a major group of birth defects that occur when the brain, spinal cord or the covering of these organs has not developed properly. Anencephaly and spina bifida are the most common types of NTDs in Ireland . Spina bifida is more common than anencephaly. It results from failure of the spine to close during the first month of pregnancy. Children with spina bifida can have varying degrees of paralysis of their lower limbs – some children can be confined to a wheelchair, whereas others have almost no symptoms at all. Spina bifida can also cause bowel and bladder problems.
Anencephaly is a fatal condition in which the upper end of the neural tube fails to close. In these cases, the brain either never completely develops or is totally absent. Pregnancies affected by anencephaly often result in miscarriages. Infants who are born alive die very soon after birth.
How much of it do I need?
You need to take one 400 micrograms (400µg) folic acid supplement every day in addition to what you get from your diet.
Should I take a supplement?
Taking a tablet that contains only folic acid is the best way to be sure that you are getting enough folic acid to help reduce the risk of NTDs.
When should I start taking folic acid supplements?
Start taking folic acid today and everyday if there is any possibility of you becoming pregnant or if you are planning a pregnancy. It is important to take folic acid for at least two months before you become pregnant.
If you are already pregnant, start now and continue to take the tablet until you go for your first check up at the hospital and then follow the instructions of your doctor.
Where can I buy folic acid supplements?
Folic acid supplements can be bought in chemists and in health food stores. If you have a medical card, you can get them free of charge on prescription from your doctor.
Is there any particular supplement that is recommended?
The Department of Health and Children recommends that you take a supplement that contains only folic acid and not a multivitamin containing folic acid.
Can I get folic acid from food?
Yes. Foods that are naturally rich in folate include some fruits, green leafy vegetables (such as broccoli), dried beans and legumes. However, the levels contained in the foods means that it can be very difficult to get enough folic acid from food alone to protect your baby as some natural folate is lost through cooking and processing.
What is food fortification?
Food fortification means that vitamins or minerals are added to food at the processing stage. There are some foods that have already been fortified with folic acid, such as breakfast cereals, milk and bread. These foods have a logo on the packaging which says ‘with extra folic acid’ or ‘contains folic acid’.
If I eat food fortified with folic acid, is it enough?
There are currently only a limited number of foods that are fortified with folic acid, so it is very difficult to get enough folic acid from food alone. It is important when planning a pregnancy or if you are currently pregnant, that you have a varied and balanced diet. In order to be certain that you are taking in enough folic acid, the best approach would be to take folic acid supplements as well as fortified foods as part of your normal diet.
If I am taking supplements and eating food fortified with folic acid, could I be consuming too much of it?
The upper limit for safe intake of folic acid is extremely high; therefore there is limited risk of getting too much folic acid. It is a B vitamin and the body will get rid of any it does not need.
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