Wednesday, January 2, 2013

National Folic Acid Awareness Week

vitamin deficiency
Folic Acid supplements can help you
prevent vitamin deficiency.
Folic acid — it doesn't sound like a riveting conversational topic, does it? Maybe not initially, but just as the old adage says you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, you should not judge this vitamin by it’s mundane name.

In fact, this week is the perfect time to start talking about it. National Folic Acid Awareness Week is from January 6th until January 12th this year. It is purposely set within January, which is also Birth Defects Awareness Month.

So what exactly is the connection between folic acid and pregnancy? Prevention. Maintaining healthy levels of this water-soluble B vitamin prevents a variety of birth defects, including Spina bifida (in womb, when the baby’s spinal column does not close to protect the spinal cord) and Anencephaly (when the majority or entirety of the brain does not develop, resulting in death either before or shortly after birth).

The National Council on Folic Acid (NCFA) states that maintaining proper folic acid levels before and during pregnancy can reduce the risk of these defects by up to 70 percent. This is because folic acid is a necessary ingredient in the development of the human body. It aids in the production of DNA. Because of the important role that folic acid plays in the early development of the fetus, women of a childbearing age should protect themselves against folic acid deficiency.

Even if you aren't planning on getting pregnant any time soon, this information is important to you, if you are of a childbearing age. Did you know that in the United States, half of all pregnancies are unplanned?

Folic acid awareness
Folic acid is important in order to prevent
birth defects.
Because folic acid is needed by the fetus so early, by the time you know you are pregnant, it may be too late to supplement a defect-causing vitamin deficiency. So even if you are not planning a pregnancy, play it safe and make sure you are getting enough folic acid. The recommended dosage for women 18 years and older is 1000 mcg/day. The dosage varies by age and health condition. Pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding may take different amounts of folic acid. It is best to check with your health care professional for the dosage that is right for you. Healthy levels of folic acid can aid in the prevention of heart disease, osteoporosis and Alzheimer's disease. 

The NCFA also points out that the Hispanic community in particular needs to raise folic acid awareness. Among racial and ethnic groups, Latinas have the lowest consumption and awareness of folic acid, resulting in Hispanic babies having 1.5-2 times greater risks of these birth defects. Initiatives such as the National Folic Acid Awareness Week hope to help change that statistic.

Now that you know all about the merits of folic acid, you are probably wondering, “Where do you get folic acid?”  Known as folic acid in its man-made form, WebMD says that folate is naturally found in the following foods:

  • Leafy vegetables
  • Bananas
  • Melons
  • Beans
  • Yeast
  • Mushrooms
  • Orange juice
  • Tomato juice
  • Many cereals are also good sources of folic acid.

Although folic acid foods that are high in natural folate are helpful, the body absorbs the man made folic acid best. Therefore, changing your diet is not enough; a daily supplement is needed. Check with your doctor if you are on medications or have preexisting conditions. If already pregnant, prenatal vitamins should already have a sufficient dosage of folic acid; check the label and consult with your doctor to be sure.

With all of this knowledge, we have the opportunity to be proactive. Making sure we are getting enough folic acid goes beyond even taking care of yourself — it’s protecting the health of unborn children. We can all do our part by sharing this information with the women in our lives. 

Amanda Gilmore
Contributing Writer 

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