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Folic Acid

Folic acid plays a critical role in the normal growth and development of the spine, brain, and skull of the fetus during the first trimester of pregnancy. It can also reduce the risk of birth defects of limbs, in addition to taking part in many biological functions. Folic acid is also referred to as being anti-anemic (iron), since it plays an important role in the normal production of red blood cells. Folic-acid deficiency can result in a higher risk of heart disease as well as neural-tube defects.

Dietary Sources

Folic acid (vitamin B, folate, folacin) is a B vitamin found in practically all foods, especially dark-green vegetables (broccoli, spinach, peas, brussels sprouts), corn, dried peas, dried beans, lentils, oranges, orange juice, whole-wheat bread, and food enriched with folic acid. Since overcooking or prolonged cooking can destroy folic acid, opt for raw or crunchy fruit and vegetables.

Neural-Tube Defects and Spina Bifida

Birth defects are deformities affecting 3% of newborns in Canada. According to Health Canada, the rate climbs to 7% during the first two years of life. Birth defects are the main cause of infant mortality in Canada.

Neural-tube defects depend on genetic and environmental factors. Drinking a lot of alcohol during pregnancy increases the risk of giving birth to an infant with a birth defect. Moreover, obesity, inadequately controlled diabetes during pregnancy, and low vitamin-B12 intake increase risks. Vitamin B12 is found in foods from animal sources (meat, poultry, fish, dairy products).

Preventing Neural-Tube Defects

Neural-tube defects—such as spina bifida—can now be prevented by diet, more specifically, by folic acid. Indeed, studies have shown that a balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables helps prevent neural-tube defects. Others confirm that taking folic-acid supplements taken before conception and during the first trimester of pregnancy considerably reduces the risk of neural-tube defects.

According to Health Canada Ce lien s'ouvrira dans une nouvelle fenêtre., all women who might become pregnant should take a multivitamin containing 0.4 mg of folic acid every day. In order to reduce the risk of neural-tube defects, women should begin taking the vitamin supplement at least three months before conception and continue taking it through the three first months of your pregnancy.

If you are pregnant or might become pregnant, consult a health-care professional so they can recommend the most appropriate supplement for you.

Dietary Reference Intakes

Age Groups Folic-Acid Requirements (mcg/day)
Infants
0–6 months
7–12 months
65
80
Children
1–3 years
4–8 years
150
200
Men
9–13 years
14 years or older
300
400
Women
9–13 years
14 years or older
300
400
Pregnancy
18 years or younger
19–50 years
600
600
Nursing
18 years or younger
19–50 years
500
500

The tolerable upper intake level (UL) of folic acid (as supplements or enriched foods) is 1000 mcg a day for adults.