Folic Acid

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Question

Why is it important for women to take folic acid while trying to conceive?

Answer

Folic acid (vitamin B9) is a B-complex vitamin that is essential to the development of healthy blood cells, nerve cells, and proteins in the body. Due to the drug's abilities, it is very important that women take folic acid while trying to conceive. As a nutritional supplement, folic acid is used to treat or prevent folic acid deficiency and certain types of anemia. There also is increasing evidence that taking folic acid prior to conception can help decrease the risk for certain neural tube defects - birth defects that can affect the baby's spine (such as spina bifida) or the baby's brain.

The U.S. Public Health Service recommends taking 0.4 mg of folic acid. Doing so can prevent up to 70% of birth defects. With an estimated 50% of pregnancies that are unplanned, women cannot always plan to take additional folic acid supplementation before getting pregnant. This is why it is very important for all women to ensure they get an adequate intake of folic acid during their childbearing years.

Folic acid may be obtained as an over-the-counter medication or in certain prenatal vitamins. It is also present in a variety of foods, including yeast and certain fruits, beans, and green leafy vegetables. In addition, some foods are fortified with folic acid such as some brands of breakfast cereals.

As with any medication, certain precautions should be taken. If you have seizures or are on medications to treat seizures (such as phenytoin), consult with your doctor before starting therapy with folic acid. There is the chance that you may experience more seizures due to a drug interaction. The two drugs may be used together, but only under the direct supervision of your doctor.

Learn more about folic acid in our Health Library.

Get more information on pregnancy in our Pregnancy Center.

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