Expert Health Articles

Folic Acid, Why Take It?

Folic acid is a human-made form of the B-vitamin folate. Our bodies use it to make new cells. Everyone needs folic acid to be healthy, but especially before pregnancy. Folic acid helps form the neural tube and is known to decrease the risk of major congenital disabilities of an unborn baby’s brain (anencephaly) and spine (spina bifida). 

Neural tube defects are the second most common major congenital anomaly. It is important to start folic acid supplementation prior to pregnancy due to these congenital disabilities occurring in the first few weeks of pregnancy. Neural tube development typically happens before women find out they are pregnant. Folic acid helps the body form and grow new red blood cells, and prevents folate-deficiency anemia outside of pregnancy.

Folic acid can be received in two ways: through the food we eat or as a vitamin. Folate is naturally occurring in foods such as spinach, leafy vegetables, oranges, nuts, beans, poultry and whole grains, among others. Folic acid is also found in fortified foods, or “enriched foods” such as pasta, bread and cereals. Labels will typically have the term “enriched” if folic acid is added.

It is important to talk with your health care provider regarding specific recommendations based on past personal and family history. A minimum recommendation is to take 400 micrograms daily, ideally before becoming pregnant. Current recommendations encourage women of reproductive age to take a daily folic acid supplement in addition to consuming food with folate. 

Abigail Maas, APRN-CNP

Certified Nurse Practitioner