Supplements in the News

Young Women Need the Facts About Folic Acid
Published Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Healthnotes Newswire (March 27, 2008)—Women who take folic acid before and during pregnancy may reduce the chance of their baby having a birth defect by as much as 50%. Folic acid, one of the B vitamins, may help prevent neural tube defects, which may affect the unborn child’s brain (anencephaly) or spinal cord (spina bifida) and can cause serious lifelong disabilities. Despite the proven benefits of this critical nutrient, a recent poll found that a high number of women of childbearing age are unaware of folic acid’s importance.

In a 2007 Gallup Organization poll conducted on behalf of the March of Dimes and analyzed by the Centers for Disease Control, only 40% of women of childbearing age were aware of the importance of folic acid in helping prevent birth defects. This number is up from 33% in 2005. But though folic acid awareness is increasing, 60% of women of child-bearing age are still uninformed and at risk.

The poll found that women ages 25 to 34 were the most aware of the nutrient’s importance, with 47% taking a daily supplement that contained folic acid. Women ages 18 to 25—the age group that experiences one-third of pregnancies—were the least aware of the nutrient’s importance or recommended dosage, and only 30% were taking a folic acid supplement. The most common reasons for not taking a daily supplement in all age groups were that they forgot, did not see a need, or believed they already had “balanced nutrition.” Others could not give a reason.

Folic acid─the right amount matters

“Women who may become pregnant should not assume they are getting enough folic acid in their diet alone,” said Alan Gaby, MD, chief medical editor of Healthnotes, Inc. “In addition to eating a healthful diet that includes folic acid, women should take a daily supplement that provides 400 mcg of the vitamin in order to reduce their risk of having a child with a neural tube defect.” Women who have previously had a child with a neural tube defect should consult their doctor about the appropriate dosage, which may need to be increased.

That said, a healthy diet should contain folic acid, as it is an important nutrient that research has shown to affect a wide variety of other health conditions. Folic acid is added to some foods, and occurs naturally in others. Some good sources:

• Fortified food such as breads and cereals

• Leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, lettuce, and kale

• Citrus fruits

• Beans

• Beets

• Wheat germ

• Meat

• Dietary supplements

According to the Centers for Disease Control, “Innovative and effective messages tailored to women aged 18 to 24 years are needed to help change behaviors, increase awareness and knowledge regarding folic acid consumption, and ultimately reduce the incidence of neural tube defects.”

(MMWR 2008;57:1, 5–8)

Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, Web sites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.

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