Many people learn about the need for the need for folic acid to prevent birth defects after they have become pregnant
http://kidshealth.org/parent/pregnan...olic_acid.htmlResearch linking the B-vitamin folic acid to the prevention of birth defects has been published in the medical literature since the 1960s. This vitamin is required in miniscule amounts during the first several months of pregnancy to ensure that the developing fetus' neural tube closes and protects the spine. When pregnant women are deficient in folic acid, the neural tube fails to close, and the infant faces a high risk of crippling and often deadly neural-tube defects, such as spina bifida.
The good news is that the relationship between folic acid and the prevention of birth defects is now well established. Even the March of Dimes has undertaken folic acid as its latest cause.
The bad news is that very little is being done to ensure that women actually receive sufficient folic acid. One problem is that many women do not realize they are pregnant at the time their fetuses requires folic acid the most.
Federal officials have for at least two years debated whether common foods, such as bread, should be fortified with folic acid. Such fortification would provide a reliable source of the vitamin for most women. There are a number of arguments against such food fortification, some sound, some not so sound.
Adding folic acid to bread might increase the cost of a loaf by 1¢. That doesn't seem like much, but some people have questioned whether the effort and cost are really worth saving only a couple of thousand babies each year. Another problem is that folic acid is extremely sensitive to heat, and the baking of bread might destroy much of the vitamin.
On the other hand, the problem of spina bifida may be far greater than most people imagine. As with any condition, there is a range in severity. Sometimes, the spine is exposed at birth, and the prognosis for the infant is very poor. At other times, neural tube defects may be more subtle. There are an unknown number of cases of "spina bifida occulta," in which the birth defect is mild and remains undiagnosed for years or even a lifetime.
The issue of folic acid supplementation takes on greater significance with the recognition that 10 to 40 percent of all cases of coronary heart disease and stroke appear related to inadequate intake of folic acid and other B vitamins. Instead of affecting 4,000 fetuses, folic acid deficiency could impact several hundred thousand Americans a year.
Folic acid, sometimes called folate, is a B vitamin (B9) found mostly in leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach, orange juice, and enriched grains. Repeated studies have shown that women who get 400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) daily prior to conception and during early pregnancy reduce the risk that their baby will be born with a serious neural tube defect (a birth defect involving incomplete development of the brain and spinal cord) by up to 70%.
The most common neural tube defects are spina bifida (an incomplete closure of the spinal cord and spinal column), anencephaly (severe underdevelopment of the brain), and encephalocele (when brain tissue protrudes out to the skin from an abnormal opening in the skull). All of these defects occur during the first 28 days of pregnancy - usually before a woman even knows she's pregnant.
That's why it's so important for all women of childbearing age to get enough folic acid - not just those who are planning to become pregnant. Only 50% of pregnancies are planned, so any woman who could become pregnant should make sure she's getting enough folic acid.
There is some discussion about folic acid supplements here: http://www.vegsource.com/campbell/messages/7409.htmlIt is unfortunately, estimated that 88 per cent of all North Americans suffer from a folic acid deficiency. Obviously, the standard diet does not supply what we need. This has led to the fortification of cereals and other foodstuffs to try to ensure a minimum daily intake of 0.4 mg/day. Although beans and green vegetables like spinach and kale are good sources of folic acid, relatively few people eat lots of vegetables and cooking destroys most of the folate anyway. Realizing the poor availability from the diet many medical researchers now advocate daily supplementation with folic acid. Because folic acid needs the catalysts vitamins B12 and B6 to carry out its functions effectively it is usual to supplement with a combination of the three.