Folic Acid Awareness Week is January 6-12, 2013 sponsored by the National Council on Folic Awareness (NCFA), a partnership of national organizations, associations, and state folic acid councils. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Council on Folic Awareness emphasize that adequate folic acid intake is important for the prevention of birth defects.
As a person living with RA, I am aware of the importance of taking folic acid to help prevent some of the negative side-effects of methotrexate. As a new bride, I am impressed with a simple effort by the county to raise awareness of the importance of folic acid in healthy pregnancies.
When Rob and I went to the county courthouse to apply for our marriage license, we received a large folder containing the information and paperwork required in the Commonwealth of Virginia to get married. One brochure enclosed in our folder provided by Fairfax County focused on the importance of folic acid intake for every woman of childbearing age.
What is Folic Acid?
Folic acid is a synthetic form of the B-vitamin folate that occurs naturally in some foods such as dark green leafy vegetables, dried beans and peas, and citrus fruits and juices. Folic acid is part of many multi-vitamin supplements and is used to fortify select foods, including enriched breads, cereals, flours, cornmeals, pastas, rice, and other grain products.
Folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin which is not stored in the body. Any excess amount of folic acid which is not used by the body is excreted in urine. You need to consume the recommended daily amount of folic acid by eating fortified foods, taking a daily multi-vitamin supplement, and eating a wide variety of foods as part of a healthy diet.
Why is Folic Acid Important?
Folate, or folic acid, is necessary for the production of healthy cells in the body. Getting adequate amounts of folic acid, the synthetic form of folate, is important for the prevention of certain birth defects affecting a baby’s brain or spinal cord. Common birth defects caused by folic acid deficiency include the neural tube defects (NTDs) spina bifida and anencephaly caused by incomplete closing of the spine and skull.
Getting enough folic acid during the month before becoming pregnant and in the early stages of pregnancy when the baby’s brain and spinal cord are forming can prevent from 50% up to 70% of neural tube defects.
Whether or not you plan to become pregnant, all women of child-bearing age should consume 400 mcg to 800 mcg of folic acid daily. Folate helps the body form red blood cells and produce DNA. It also works with vitamins B12 and C to help the body create and metabolize proteins.
Signs of folic acid deficiency may include diarrhea, gray hair, mouth ulcers, peptic ulcer, poor growth, swollen tongue (glossitis), and certain types of anemia.
Recommended Daily Amounts of Folic Acid
The amount of folic acid which you need to consume daily depends upon your age and gender, and other important factors such as certain illnesses and pregnancy. Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should take at least 400 mcg of folic acid every single day. Pregnant women may need even higher levels of folic acid.