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Benefits of Folic Acid for Women
Are you planning on getting pregnant and someone has recommended folic acid to you? Most women are first introduced to this special vitamin when they are already pregnant or having fertility issues. The benefits of folic acid for women are immense. But if you are worried about why you need this vitamin in order to get pregnant, or ‘what is folate good for?’ or wondering ‘how much folic acid should I take’, here are some of the essential things you should know.
What Is Folic Acid?
Folic acid is the name of the chemical that is synthetic in nature. It is a water-soluble vitamin and is available in the form of food supplements and in fortified foods.
You can also get this vitamin from natural foods. This same chemical comes in a different form known as folate when found in its natural form. The human body does not produce folate naturally, so in order to get all the necessary vitamin B9 benefits, you have to either eat food rich in natural folate or take folic acid supplements.
The normal folic acid levels dwindle as it is used in the body, and women need to add this vitamin to their daily regimen to get maximum benefits. Though many associate folates with pregnancy, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that women should make it a part of their daily routine, even when they do not plan on getting pregnant.
What Does Folic Acid Do for Your Body?
If it is so important, the next reasonable question that arises is that what does folic acid do in the body and what is folate good for?
Well, your body needs folic acid to perform a variety of essential functions which include:
- The synthesis, repair, and upkeep of the human DNA
- Division of the cells
- Help in performing numerous cellular reactions
- Maturation of red blood cells
Benefits of Folic Acid for Women
Women need folic acid more than men and especially in the period prior to and during the birthing process. It can help prevent birth defects such as neural tube defects, spina bifida, and anencephaly. In anencephaly, a baby is often born without a brain or part of its skull. In such cases, babies cannot long survive after birth.
This vitamin is so important that maternal folate status is used as a predictor for neural tube defects in babies. This indicator also influences public health policies regarding folic acid supplementation for pregnant women.
Folic acid supplements are also prescribed to pregnant women to prevent pregnancy-related complications. One of the most common complications that can be helped with folic acid supplementation is preeclampsia.
Folic acid intake is also associated with increased fertility in terms of higher rates of live births in women using assistance in getting pregnant in the form of IVF. Folic acid also helps in improving the quality of the egg, its implantation, and maturation.
Folic Acid Deficiency
Multiple metabolic processes in the body use vitamin B9, and its deficiency can lead to long-term negative health outcomes such as increased risk of heart disease, cancers, birth defects, and megaloblastic anemia. Folic acid deficiency can be caused by unbalanced and poor dietary intake, issues with stomach acid, drug interactions, alcohol dependence, and in cases of serious illnesses and surgeries of the digestive system.
Other problems that might contribute to a vitamin B9 deficiency are pregnancy, hemolytic anemia, and dialysis.
Not Everything that Shines is Gold! Folic Acid Intake can Have Negative Consequences
Folic acid intake can also have some negative consequences. In many cases, it has been found that a high intake of folate through fortified food and supplements may result in high blood levels of unmetabolized folic acid. However, that is not true if you consume a natural form of folate called 5-methyltetrahydrofolate which does not contribute to excessive folic acid blood levels.
In some studies, high levels of unmetabolized folic acid in the blood have been associated with an increased risk of autism and negative effects on neurocognitive development. A study found that women who had high levels of blood folic acid during the 14th week of gestation were likely to have children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Important to note is that non-metabolized folic acid is usually not seen in people who take less than 400 mcg of folic acid per day.
Besides autism, high levels of unmetabolized folic acid during pregnancy may also contribute to poor neurocognitive development in children. In one study, it was found that children of women who took 400 to 999 mcg of folic acid per day performed better at cognitive tests than children whose mother took more than 1000 mcg of folic acid per day.
This shows that though folic acid is good for women, and has many benefits, it should still be taken under the advice of a doctor and in quantities that are beneficial.
How Much Folic Acid should I take?
If you are pregnant or just starting your health journey, it is important to get the folic acid dosage right.
In the human body, the normal amount of folate is between 10–30 mg. Most of it is stored in your liver, while some can be found in tissues and blood. The normal amount of folate in human blood is 5–15 mg/mL.
When taken on an empty stomach, the synthetic folic acid can have 100% absorbability, which means the cells use all of it. On the other hand, the folic acid in fortified foods has only 85% absorbability. The folate present in natural foods has just 50 percent absorbability; hence, the need for supplementation.
An important question is, how much folate for pregnancy is needed? CDC recommends that pregnant and breastfeeding women should take 600 mcg and 500 mcg of folic acid respectively. A normal young woman should take 400 mcg of folic acid daily.
Folic Acid Foods
As the benefits of folic acid for women are immense, you should consider taking food that is rich in folate. These include eggs, beef liver, citrus fruits, spinach, broccoli, kale, and avocado. You can also consume fortified food such as bread, flour, and breakfast cereals. Many countries such as the United States have made it essential to fortify food grain with folic acid in order to curb its deficiency in the citizenry.
But because of low absorbability and other factors, it is important that women take a folic acid supplement every day. It might be as important as the daily brushing of your teeth!