About 20% of the world’s population has a folic acid deficiency. Meanwhile, people often can’t even guess they have such a problem as well as don’t know about its possible consequences. Vitamin B9 (or folic acid) is one of the most essential for the human body substances. There is even more to it – folic acid is vital. But this very thing our body often lacks. That’s especially true for kids and pregnant women. What’s the connection between folic acid and pregnancy?
The folic acid deficiency can go unnoticed. But with the course of time a person loses their appetite, becomes irritable, easily gets tired, then come diarrhea and vomiting, and, in the end, there are sores in the mouth and hair loss. Metabolic processes, red blood cells’ formation, the functioning of the digestive tract, cardiovascular, immune, and nervous systems – folic acid takes part in all these processes. A severe vitamin B9 deficiency inevitably results in megaloblastic anemia which, in its turn, can lead to the lethal outcome.
Folic acid and pregnancy: why does the baby need it?
If the intestinal microflora is normal the human body is able to produce a little folic acid. However, its amount is too small to satisfy our need for the vitamin. That’s why we should provide our organism with it, consuming the right products and vitamin complexes.
What is it about folic acid and pregnancy? During pregnancy, the future mother needs considerably more folic acid than she normally does. This vitamin takes an active part in the formation of the placenta, so its lack can cause placental insufficiency and, as a result, a miscarriage. Together with vitamin B12, folic acid is necessary for cell division which is especially important for the formation and growth of the embryo. It also takes part in blood formation and is necessary for the secretion of nucleic acids which are responsible for the transmission of genetic information.
The lack of folic acid during pregnancy (especially in the early stages) can end in congenital malformations. The risks for the fetus include:
- Anencephaly (the absence of the brain);
- A cerebral hernia;
- Mental and physical disabilities;
- Spinal column defects;
- A miscarriage;
When does a pregnant woman need folic acid?
Folic acid and pregnancy are inseparable. Any pregnant woman needs it. It’s the only vitamin the necessity of which can’t be denied even by fierce opponents of artificial vitamins.
All the processes of fetal development, which folic acid takes part in, take place during the early pregnancy terms when a woman doesn’t even know she is pregnant. On the 16th day after the conception, the neural tube begins to form. This process is especially important and needs a sufficient amount of vitamin B9. Folic acid should be taken in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Ideally, a woman should start taking folic acid when she is only trying to conceive.
But even if you’ve found out you are pregnant much later than you’d like, it’s not too late for taking folic acid. The neural tube is going through various changes during the whole first trimester.
The sources of folic acid for pregnant women
“Folium” means “a leaf” in Latin. So it’s obvious that there is a lot of folic acid in greenery: spinach, parsley, green salad, green onion, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and green peas. Great sources of the vitamin also are avocado, citrus fruit, melon, pumpkin, apricots, peas, and yeast. That’s why vegetarians rarely suffer from the lack of folic acid. However, if you are not eating much greenery, fruit and vegetables (for example, in winter) you should take folic acid in pills.
If the future mother’s state of health is great and there is no need to take higher doses of folic acid, then the amount of vitamin B9 contained in usual vitamin complexes for pregnant women is enough for a normal course of pregnancy.
If your doctor has recommended taking higher doses of folic acid, you should take into consideration how much of it you are already taking with other vitamins.
Folic acid and pregnancy: the daily dose
An average adult person needs 200 mcg of folic acid a day. But during pregnancy, the need for folic acid increases twice – to 400 mcg. Sometimes it can reach even 800 mcg per day. A lot of women are scared of such figures. But there is no reason for concern. The thing about folic acid and pregnancy is that the woman and her unborn baby really need a huge amount of it. Overdosing is nearly impossible. It can happen only if the woman takes a hundred times higher dose than normal – about 25-30 pills a day. In other cases, the excess folic acid just leaves your body without any side-effects.
A large dose of vitamin B9 is needed when a woman suffers from a severe folic acid deficiency or from some other health problem, for example:
- There are factors which speed up the excretion of folic acid;
- There is a high risk of neural tube defects (an expectant mother suffers from diabetes or epilepsy);
- Developmental anomalies in family history;
- Digestive tract disorders;
- Frequent vomiting.
If you experience even only one of the abovementioned conditions you should increase the daily dose of folic acid to 2-3 pills. They should be taken after mealtime.
An overdose of folic acid during pregnancy
As we have already mentioned, you’ll need to take a dose of 25-30 pills a day to overdose.
However, Norwegian scientists have conducted an experiment which proved the following fact: the women with too much folic acid in their blood plasma often give birth to the babies prone to asthma.
If you are worried about a high dosage of folic acid during pregnancy, consult your doctor. But remember, a slightly higher dose is alright.
What else should you know about folic acid while pregnant?
- During pregnancy, the withdrawal of folic acid from your body happens faster;
- Strong tea also speeds up the excretion of folic acid;
- If you are taking a number of medications (antacids, estrogens, anticonvulsants, or zinc) you’ll need more folic acid;
- Folic acid can cause allergic reactions;
- Besides the formation of the nervous system of the fetus, vitamin B9 is spent on the “renovation” and replacement of about 70 trillion cells of the mother because the human cells are constantly regenerating;
- The lack of folic acid is transmitted from the mother to the fetus or the newborn baby if the mother doesn’t have enough vitamin during pregnancy or in her breast milk;
- In order to get more folic acid from vegetables, eat them raw or steamed.