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Folic acid: Why every woman should take it
Prevents neural tube defects
Published Friday, March 22, 2013 11:37 am
by Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity

Did you know that each year more than 100 babies in North Carolina are born with severely damaged brains or spinal cords?

Birth defects are the number one cause of child death in the United States, and neural tube defects kill more children every year than all other childhood diseases combined. According to the State Center for Health Statistics, North Carolina has one of the highest rates of neural tube defects in the nation for all racial and ethnic populations.

Folic acid is a B vitamin that can help to prevent Neural Tube Defects and other birth defects. Read on to learn more.

What are neural tube defects?
The neural tube is the developing tissue that eventually becomes the spinal cord and brain. It is an open tube for a short period early in human development, and then it closes at 22-23 days after conception. Neural tube defects occur when the neural tube does not close completely.

The most common types of NTDs are anencephaly and spina bifida. Anencephaly causes a baby to be born without a major portion of the brain, skull, and scalp. Anencephaly is always fatal; these babies are usually stillborn or die shortly after birth. 

Spina bifida occurs when the neural tube fails to close and results in an incomplete spinal cord. The bones around the spinal cord in this area do not form correctly, so the deformed area of the spinal cord often protrudes through the spine. Persons with spina bifida often have paralysis (partial or whole) of the legs, lack of control over bladder and intestines, fluid retention on the brain and spine, and some developmental disabilities.

Why should I take a multivitamin with folic acid?
Taking a multivitamin with folic acid every day in addition to following a healthy diet rich in folate can increase the chances of having a healthy baby (a baby without an NTD) by up to 70 percent.

The National and North Carolina Folic Acid Councils recommend that all women of childbearing age, that is all women who have a menstrual cycle, whether or not they are trying to become pregnant, take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms (mcg) [equivalent to 0.4 milligrams (mg)] of folic acid per day. Women who have had a child with an NTD or who have a family history of NTDs should take 4,000 mcg (4.0 mg) per day.

Folic acid must be taken one to three months prior to conception to be beneficial in reducing birth defects. The formation of the neural tube is complete between 22 days and 23 days of pregnancy, or about four weeks; that is often before many women know they are pregnant. While scientists do not know exactly how folic acid prevents birth defects, it is clear that it is necessary to help make the cells that will form a baby’s brain, spine, organs, skin, and bones.

Multivitamins with folic acid can be purchased in your local grocery stores, drug stores, or discount stores. You do not need a prescription to buy multivitamins. Cost does not have to be a deterrent; multivitamins with a store brand name are just as effective as more expensive brands. Many local health departments offer free multivitamins for women who qualify. You should take your multivitamin at the same time every day and put it in a familiar place–like by your coffee or your toothbrush.

What are some other sources of folic acid?
Eating a diet rich in folate is also important. Some of these foods include:

• Broccoli and green leafy vegetables

• Tomatoes

• Pinto beans, black beans, lima beans, and lentils

• Apples, bananas, papaya, and avocados

• Breads and cereals that are enriched—the labels will say “Enriched” on them

• White rice

• Orange juice, apple juice

• Eggs
For more information, please call the North Carolina PreConception Health Campaign at 1-800-367-2229 or see the NCPHC website: www.everywomannc.com.

Do you need further information or have questions or comments about this article? Call toll-free 1-877-530-1824. Or, for more information about the Maya Center for Health Equity, please visit our website: http://www.wfubmc.edu/minorityhealth.



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