National Folic Acid Awareness
Folate is the generic term referring to both natural folates and folic acid, both forms of a water-soluble B vitamin. Folate occurs naturally in food, and folic acid is the synthetic form found in supplements or enriched foods.
Folic acid plays a role in helping the body make red blood cells that are important in carrying oxygen to cells in the body. Some studies have shown folic acid even may help in protecting the heart from heart disease, but nothing has been conclusive and scientists are still studying this concept.
Folic acid supplements are helpful in decreasing symptoms associated with low folate levels. Most often a deficiency is related to a number of different situations such as chronic alcohol consumption, malabsorption disorders of the gastrointestinal system, smoking or some cancers.
What has made a name for folic acid here in the Western world is how critical it is to take or eat folic acid before pregnancy and during its early stages. Every cell in the body utilizes folic acid for normal growth and development. When taken before and during the early stages of pregnancy, folic acid can decrease risks of defects in the brain and spine (neural tube defects) by 70 percent. Some studies have shown folic acid also may reduce risks of heart defects and cleft lip and palate.
How can you get folic acid?
Folic acid comes in a synthetic form (i.e., vitamins). First and foremost, talk with your doctor before taking any supplement, especially folic acid. Developing a plan with your provider is crucial to your health and your children’s.
Folate also is found in foods such as beans, lentils, leafy green vegetables, asparagus, broccoli, peanuts, oranges, grapefruit and orange juice.
Folic acid has been added to many foods found in our grocery stores that are often labeled “enriched,” such as cereal and flour.
Please talk with your doctor before taking any supplements and if you have any questions regarding your health. If you would like to learn more about neural tube defects, please visit MarchOfDimes.org.
Melanie Yunger is a local wife, mother and nurse practitioner.
As always, please consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns.