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Folic acid is a B vitamin that, when taken before pregnancy, has been proven to prevent neural tube defects (NTDs) like spina bifida and anencephaly. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention up to 70 percent of neural tube defects could be prevented if women took 400 mcg (micrograms) of folic acid everyday. For women who have already had a baby with a neural tube defect 4000 mcg of folic acid daily is needed.

Recent studies indicate that folic acid may also reduce the risk of heart and limb defects. And other recent studies indicate that folic acid decreases homocysteine levels and may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and some forms of cancer.

The best way to get 100 percent of the daily requirement is to take a multi-vitamin or folic acid supplement, which can be found at any drugstore or by eating a cereal fortified with 100 percent folic acid.

Health professionals play an important role in encouraging women to take folic acid. The 2003 March of Dimes Gallup Poll found that 51 percent of women would be very likely to take a multivitamin or folic acid supplement if advised to do so by their physician or other healthcare provider.


Recent Studies: Folic Acid

  • A study in the BritishJournal of Nutrition and reported by Reuters links folic acid to low birth weight babies.

    Researchers from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne examined folate levels in red blood cells for nearly 1,000 pregnant women and looked at lifestyle data. They found higher folate levels in women were associated with increased birth weight for their babies.

    "Low folate status in early pregnancy has been linked with low infant birth weight. Mothers with low levels of folate have lighter babies," said Dr Caroline Relton, who headed the research team. Relton and her team also noted that women who smoked tended to have lower levels of folate in their blood, which could explain why they giv birth to smaller babies.

  • NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Higher intake of folic acid is associated with a decreased risk of hypertension, particularly among younger women, according to a prospective study reported in the January 19th issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. The association appeared to be driven primarily by folate supplementation. The relationship between supplementation and hypertension was statistically significant, while the relationship between dietary folate and hypertension was not significant. To read the entire paper, visit the Web site of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

  • Study dietary supplements containing Folic Acid among women of child bearing age - U.S. 2005 http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5438a4.htm