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Folic acid

 

What is folic acid?

Folic acid is one of the B vitamins, it is also known as folate when found naturally in foods, some of which you may already eat. Folic acid is added to many breakfast cereals (e.g. Kellogg’s corn flakes™)and breads to fortify them.

Look on the outside of packets for the nutritional chart or the ‘contains folic acid’ symbol.

Foods that are high in folate include: –

  • Bovril™.
  • Fruits particularly kiwi fruit and papaya.
  • Vegetables such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, spinach, cabbage, asparagus and parsnips.
  • Cooked kidney and liver (pregnant women should avoid liver).

Be careful not to overcook vegetables as this can destroy the folate, you should also try to eat vegetables raw or steamed.

Foods that contain good sources of folate include:

  • Oranges (including orange juice)
  • Tinned baked beans
  • Lettuce, peas and cauliflower
  • Marmite™
  • Egg yolks
  • Milk
  • Wholemeal and white bread (usually fortified with folic acid).
  • Large jacket potato

There are also folic acid supplements available if you don’t tend to eat any of the foods listed on a regular basis. Supplements should only be taken when your diet isn’t giving you the recommended intakes. The recommended daily allowance for folic acid is 400 micrograms. If you are pregnant a folic acid supplement is recommended – see below.

Why do I need to take folic acid?

Taking folic acid when you are pregnant protects your unborn baby from being affected by neural tube defects (N.T.D.) the most common being spina bifida. Spina bifida occurs when the baby’s spine does not develop as it should, leaving a gap or a split. Depending on the type of spina bifida, the baby can either be stillborn, die shortly after birth or cause disabilities in the child.

Due to the early development of the baby’s spine, folic acid should be taken as soon as contraception stops and until the 12th week of pregnancy. You do not need to carry on taking folic acid after the 12th week, as the baby’s spine will be developed, but you should still stick to ahealthy balanced diet.

Folic acid is also needed to reduce levels of homocysteine in the blood, high levels of homocysteine have been linked with an increased risk ofheart disease and stroke. These diseases are widespread among men so additional folic acid may benefit men as well as women.

There is also increasing evidence that high levels of homocysteine may play a part in diseases such as osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s. We will try to keep you updated with news on homocysteine and its affects on the body.

New research also shows that men who have a folic acid deficiency could notice a 90% reduction in their sperm count. If men suffering with partial infertility take folic acid it is proclaimed to increase the quality and quantity of their sperm.

How can I increase my intake of folic acid?

You can get folic acid by increasing your intake of the foods mentioned above, you probably already have an intake of 200micrograms from normal healthy eating. Green leafy vegetables and certain cereals (check the packages for details) contain the highest source of folic acid (more than 100micrograms per serving).

You should increase your intake of folic acid when pregnant by taking a folic acid supplement, the recommended dose for this is 0.4 milligrams (400micrograms) a day. These can be bought in all chemists, most supermarkets and health food shops, they are also available on prescription(free when pregnant).

Can I take too much folic acid?

Folic Acid is not harmful either to yourself or your baby. As folic acid is water-soluble your body is capable of getting rid naturally of any excess amounts.

If you suffer from epilepsy, consult your family doctor before taking a folic acid supplement.

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