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Wilburn: Women, embrace folic acid

POSTED: May 20, 2009 1:00 a.m.

Folic acid is a B vitamin; our bodies use it to make new cells.

Everyone needs folic acid, but for women who may be thinking about getting pregnant, it is really important.

If a woman has enough folic acid in her body before she is pregnant, it can help prevent major birth defects in her baby's brain and spine. These birth defects are neural tube defects, and women need to take folic acid every day, starting before they are pregnant, to help prevent these defects.

A woman's body uses folic acid to make healthy new cells for her baby. Scientists are not sure how folic acid works to prevent birth defects, but they do know that it is needed for making the cells that will form a baby's brain, spine, organs, skin and bones.

How much is enough?

Look for 100 percent daily value. The CDC and the U.S. Public Health Service urge every woman who could become pregnant to get 400 micrograms of synthetic folic acid every day.

One easy way is to take a daily vitamin that has folic acid in it. Folic acid pills and most multivitamins sold in the United States have 100 percent of the daily value of folic acid; check the label to be sure.

Make it easy to remember; try taking a vitamin when you brush your teeth, with your breakfast or after your shower. Seeing the vitamin bottle on the bathroom or kitchen counter can help you remember it, too.

If you have children, take your vitamin when they take theirs - that sets a good example.

These days, multivitamins with folic acid come in chewable chocolate or fruit flavors or liquids. Many stores offer a single folic acid supplement for just pennies a day.

Another good choice is a store-brand multivitamin. Unless your doctor suggests a special type, you do not need to choose among vitamins for women or active people, or even to go with a low-carbohydrate diet. A basic multivitamin meets the needs of most women.

A single serving of many breakfast cereals also has the amount of folic acid that you need each day, but check the label.

When should a woman start taking folic acid?

These birth defects happen in the first few weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman finds out that she is pregnant. All women of child-bearing age should get in the habit of taking folic acid daily, even when they are not planning to get pregnant.

Source: National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities

Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Contact: 770-535-8290.


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