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Health Benefits of Folic Acid

January 6, 2013
Rob Masterson, RD

In light of this week (National Folic Acid Awareness Week) and this month as a whole (National Birth Defects Prevention Month) [NL] would like to share with you some information regarding this amazing and vital B vitamin. Here’s a breakdown of some information you should know.

WHAT EXACTLY IS FOLIC ACID?

Folic acid, also known as folate, is one of several B-vitamins. It is needed for production and maintenance of new cells as well as for DNA and RNA synthesis. This particular B vitamin is especially important for women of child-bearing age, those considering becoming pregnant, or already pregnant. This is because folate is vital for proper development of a fetus’ brain and spine and the prevention of neural tube defects (NTDs), most commonly anencephaly and spina bifida.

WHAT IS ANCEPHALY?

Anencephaly is a disorder that results when a neural tube fails to close creating an absence of a portion of the brain and skull, leaving a portion of the fetus’ brain tissue exposed. The occurrence of this NTD can significantly be reduced with sufficient folate intake.

WHAT IS SPINA BIFIDA?

Spina bifida is the other common NTD resulting from insufficient intake of folate before and during pregnancy, among other complications. This birth defect results in an exposed portion of the spinal cord and abnormal function due to vertebrae not being fully formed and fused.

SOURCES OF FOLIC ACID

Good food sources of folate include mushrooms, green vegetables (spinach, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus), peanuts, legumes (lima and kidney beans), citrus fruits and liver. Fortified breads and cereals are also good sources. Raw forms of these food sources are typically higher in folate due to the effects of heat processing which can rid food of most of its folate.

HOW MUCH DO I NEED?

It is recommended that all women of child-bearing age consume 400 micrograms of folate each day.

OTHER HEALTH BENEFITS/RISKS

Besides significantly reducing the risk of birth defects in infants folate has also being linked with potential benefits in dementia, in which folate appears to effect memory and abstract thinking. Poor folate status has also been connected to the development of some cancers, especially colon cancer.

WANT MORE?

For more information please visit the National Council on Folic Acid website for Folic Acid Awareness Week.

NutritionLatelyBottomBioRob

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