Women of Childbearing Age Should Take Folic Acid Supplements

The U.S. Preventive Task Force reaffirms its 2009 recommendation: women who are able to conceive should take folic acid supplements to prevent some neural tube defects.

The recommendation encompasses all women who are capable of conception – anyone who can conceive should be taking 400-800 micrograms of the B vitamin folic acid in case their diet doesn’t have enough. Supplementation with this vitamin has been shown to reduce to risk of neural tube defects, which include severe conditions including anencephaly and spina bifida.

Folic acid, the synthetic version of vitamin B9, is also present in cereals and enriched grains – starting in 1988, manufacturers began fortifying cereals with it to further ensure women were getting enough it it in their diets. For some women, eating fortified foods may provide them enough folic acid – but for others, it may not be enough, especially if women are following gluten-free or low-carb diets (which reduce the amount of fortified grains they eat), or if they aren’t eating leafy green vegetables, beef liver or beans (which contain folate, the non synthetic version of vitamin B9).

Why is folic acid so important? The neural tube is the part of the embryo that eventually becomes the brain and spinal cord, and the tube usually closes within  28 days of conception. This means that women should have enough vitamin B9 before conception and during those 28 days. Not having enough greatly increases the risk of neural tube defects, which can often be severely life-limiting.

Why does the recommendation extend to all women who are able to conceive, not just the ones who specifically plan on becoming pregnant? About half of pregnancies are unintended, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Because the window of time in which supplementation is useful is so short, it’s important to have enough folic acid in the body already to reduce neural tube defect risk.  

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Disclaimer: This document is provided merely as a general educational resources and is not intended to be – nor should be interpreted as – medical advice. For medical advice, please seek the assistance of a medical professional.

 

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