A lack of dietary folic acid can produce several symptoms including diarrhea, nerve damage, depression, ulcers, headaches, heart palpitations and behavioural disorders. Folic acid is essential in synthesizing and repairing DNA. But it is its role and importance in conception and pregnancy that is the most significant.
Folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, is an absolutely ESSENTIAL component in maintaining and achieving a healthy pregnancy. Being folate deficient can lead to an extensive list of health problems for your unborn baby; most notably neural tube defects in developing embryos. Neural tube defects can create malformations of the spine, skull and brain. Common defects include spina bifida and anencephaly. While spina bifida is a defect that can produce an exposed spinal cord resulting from a baby’s vertebrae not fully forming, anencephaly is a condition wherein major portions of the brain, skull or scalp do not fully form and/or are absent. Folic acid is also known for reducing the risk of heart defects, cleft lips, limb malformations and urinary tract abnormalities. Folate deficient pregnancies could also stunt fetal growth, result in premature births and/or low birth rates.
When it comes to being pregnant, I cannot stress the importance of achieving the recommended daily intake of folic acid enough. Folic acid is an integral part of assisting in cell division and growth, especially when it comes to unborn fetuses and young infants. Both child and adult alike require a sufficient amount of folic acid to produce a healthy amount of red blood cells in the body.
According to an Irish study conducted in an urban center, 85% of women studied reported that they used folic acid supplements before becoming pregnant, but only 18% of them achieved the recommended daily intake, due mainly to socio-economic obstacles.
How much folic acid do you need? The recommended daily intake for all women of childbearing age is at LEAST 400 micrograms (mcg), or 0.4 milligrams (mg). As for pregnant women, approximately 600-800 micrograms is required. This is not always easy to achieve with our busy lifestyles. That is why it is extremely important to not only try to eat as much folic acid fortified foods as possible, but imperative that women, especially those trying to conceive, also take a supplement that offers a sufficient amount of folic acid in the ingredient list.
Folic acid-rich foods:
- Citrus fruits (papaya, oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, raspberries)
- Beans, peas and lentils
- Brussel Sprouts
- Seeds and nuts
- Squashk leafy greens (spinach, collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, romaine lettuce)