Folic acid is essential for the healthy functioning of the human body. It is present in a range of food sources and supplements that can be bought over the counter or with a prescription by your doctor in liquid form and tablets. It is a nutrient essential during pregnancy for developing a healthy foetus and preventing brain and spinal defects such as spina bifida.
Folic acid is one of the B vitamins, also known as folate, when found naturally in foods, some of which you may already eat. Folic acid is added to breakfast cereals (e.g. Kellogg’s corn flakes™) and bread to fortify them.
Look on the product packaging for the nutritional chart or the ‘contains folic acid’ symbol.
The best way to ensure your body has the right amount of nutrients is to get them via the food you eat. Those deficient in folic acid may also require a daily supplement. Still, the average person can access the necessary amount of folate by eating a balanced diet.
Be careful not to overcook vegetables as this can break down folic acid, preventing you from reaping the benefits. If you can, you should aim to eat vegetables raw or steamed.
Folic acid supplements are available if you don’t tend to eat any of the foods listed regularly. Supplements should only be taken when your diet isn’t giving you the recommended intake. The recommended daily dose of folic acid is 400 micrograms. A folic acid supplement is recommended if you are pregnant – see below.
Taking folic acid when trying for a baby and in early pregnancy 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 when planning for a baby until the 12th week of pregnancy. You do not need to take folic acid after the 12th week, as the baby’s spine will develop, but you should still stick to a healthy balanced diet.
Folic acid is also needed to reduce levels of homocysteine in the blood. High homocysteine levels have been linked with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. These diseases are particularly prevalent in men.
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 effects on the body.
New research also shows that men with folic acid deficiency could notice a 90% reduction in their sperm count. If men with partial infertility take folic acid, it is proclaimed to increase the quality and quantity of their sperm.
There are several potential causes for low levels of folic acid or vitamin B12 in the body. It is always recommended that if you are feeling unwell, you visit your doctor so you can identify the root cause of your symptoms.
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 from all chemists, most supermarkets, and health food shops. They are also available on prescription (free when pregnant).
Folic Acid is not harmful either to yourself or your unborn children. As folic acid is water-soluble, your body can get rid naturally of any excess amounts. Taking the recommended dose once a day is advised, but there is no cause for concern if you accidentally take two doses within 24 hours.
The supplements can be taken with or without food at any time of the day. To help build a routine, so you remember to take your supplements, it is recommended that you take your folic acid around the same time each day. Folate typically takes a few hours to get into the body’s system. Still, it can take up to a few weeks for symptoms of anaema to resolve.
If you have epilepsy, consult your family doctor before taking a folic acid supplement.
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