Folic acid is an important member of the vitamin B family. This B vitamin is also known as vitamin B9. Folic acid is essential for the development of new cells. Every person irrespective of age and gender needs this important B vitamin. It is one of the key nutrients needed for proper development of the fetus. Birth defects are often associated with folic acid deficiency in pregnant women.
Folic acid benefits
Folic acid during pregnancy
Every year hundreds of newborns are born with spina bifida, a type of neural tube defect. Studies have shown that folic acid deficiency in women during conception is responsible for this birth defect, which is characterized by incomplete closure of the spinal column.
Folic acid deficiency might also cause other forms of neural tube defects such as anencephaly or incomplete development of the brain, and encephalocele, in which the skull does not close completely and the tissues in brain protrude out into a sac.
Studies have shown that adequate intake of folic acid rich foods in the childbearing age, could lower the risk of neural tube defects by almost 70 per cent. Health experts suggest that women planning conception should ensure adequate consumption of folic acids to prevent birth defects.
Increasing folic acid intake during pregnancy might not help. Because most birth defects usually occur within the first 28 days of pregnancy, before a woman is aware that she is pregnant. Neural tube defects could be lowered by consuming 400 micrograms of folic acid daily.
Folic acid prevents anemia
Folic acid helps the body to make red blood cells. Low red blood cell count is known as anemia. Absence of enough folic acid in the diet increases the risk of anemia. Fatigue, weakness and dizziness are common symptoms of anemia. Often deficiency of folic acid is accompanied by vitamin B12 deficiency, which further worsens the symptoms of anemia.
Sources of folic acid
Leafy green vegetables, peas, beans, asparagus, okra, pineapple and grapefruits are rich sources of folic acid. Often folic acid supplements are recommended for treating as well as preventing folic acid deficiency.
Side effects of folic acid supplements
However, some health experts fear that folic acid overdose caused by excess ingestion of folic acid supplements might be harmful for the health. It might increase the risk of breast, lung and prostate cancers.