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Articles » Folic Acid: NWHIC

Folic Acid: NWHIC

Article title: Folic Acid: NWHIC

Conditions: Folic Acid, spina bifida, anencephaly, pregnancy, heart disease, stroke

Source: NWHIC


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What is folic acid?
Why is folic acid important for women?
How can women get enough folic acid?

See also . . .

What is folic acid?

Folic acid is one of the B vitamins. It is found in citrus fruits, leafy green vegetables, and fortified cereals, breads, and grain products.

Why is folic acid important for women?

Each year in the U.S., 4,000 pregnancies are affected by birth defects of the spine and brain, called spina bifida and anencephaly. Spina bifida is a defect of the spinal column that occurs during the first 28 days of pregnancy. It can lead to serious disabilities, such as deformities in the knees or feet, paralysis in the feet and legs, incontinence, learning disabilities, and mental retardation. Babies with anencephaly do not develop a brain or only develop a partial brain. These babies die either before birth or shortly afterwards.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that up to 3,000 of these neural tube birth defects could be prevented each year if women consumed folic acid each day before pregnancy and during the early months of pregnancy. Since half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are not planned, many women may not find out that they are pregnant until well after the ideal time to prevent these birth defects. As a result, the Public Health Service recommends that all women of childbearing age consume 0.4 mg of folic acid each day to prevent spina bifida and anencephaly.

Folic acid is also important for women at every age, because it helps prevent heart disease and stroke. However, too much folic acid can mask the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, which affects one in five people ages 65 to 95 years. So, the recommended level of folic acid does not go above one mg per day.

How can women get enough folic acid?

Basically, foods rich in folic acid are also those that help make up a healthy diet. These include grain products like bread, rice, pasta, and breakfast cereals-which following a new FDA rule now are enriched with additional folic acid. Dark green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits like oranges and lemons, most types of berries, dried peas, beans, and lentils are also naturally rich in folic acid. Many multi-vitamins, especially those recommended for pregnant women, contain folic acid.

For more information...

You can find out more about the importance of folic acid by contacting the following organizations:

Division of Birth Defects, Child Development, and Disability and Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (770) 488-7160,

Food and Drug Administration Consumer Hotline: (800) 532-4440

All material contained in the FAQs is free of copyright restrictions, and may be copied, reproduced, or duplicated without permission of the Office on Women's Health in the Department of Health and Human Services; citation of the sources is appreciated.

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Publication date: 1998



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