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Women need Folic Acid in pregnancy -iWomen need Folic Acid in pregnancy -important for childbearing

Women of childbearing age are recommended to take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily to prevent possible birth defects should they become pregnant, findings from two new studies indicate that most eligible women, especially those between 18 and 24 years of age, do not.span id="midArticle_0">

These findings are concerning given the well-established link between low folate levels during pregnancy and the occurrence of neural tube defects, which include abnormalities in the development of the brain and spine, often resulting in severe disability or death.

To provide maximum benefit, folate levels need to be adequate from the start of the pregnancy, not just when a woman becomes aware of her pregnancy.

The results of both studies appear in this week's issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

In the first study, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and elsewhere assessed the awareness, knowledge, and use of folic acid supplements among U.S. women of childbearing age (18 to 45 years) by analyzing data from annual surveys conducted by the Gallup Organization from 2003 to 2007.

The report shows that throughout the entire study period, the percentage of women taking a folic acid-containing supplement daily never exceeded 48 percent, except for women with confirmed pregnancy.

In 2007, the percentage of all eligible women taking these supplements was 40 percent. The lowest prevalence of folic acid supplementation was seen in women between 18 and 24 years of age - ranging from 25 percent to 31 percent. Women in this age group also had lower awareness (61 percent) and knowledge (6 percent) about the importance of folic acid than women in other age groups.

Factors associated with a greater likelihood of taking folic acid-containing supplements included white race, non-Hispanic ethnicity, higher education, and greater household income.

No significant improvements in folic acid supplementation, knowledge, or awareness were noted during the study period. 

Caution About Folic Acid Supplements
Beware of the interaction between vitamin B12 and folic acid
Intake of supplemental folic acid should not exceed 1,000 micrograms (μg) per day to prevent folic acid from triggering symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency . Folic acid supplements can correct the anemia associated with vitamin B12 deficiency. Unfortunately, folic acid will not correct changes in the nervous system that result from vitamin B12 deficiency. Permanent nerve damage can occur if vitamin B12 deficiency is not treated.

It is very important for older adults to be aware of the relationship between folic acid and vitamin B12 because they are at greater risk of having a vitamin B12 deficiency. If you are 50 years of age or older, ask your physician to check your B12 status before you take a supplement that contains folic acid. If you are taking a supplement containing folic acid, read the label to make sure it also contains B12 or speak with a physician about the need for a B12 supplement.

What is the health risk of too much folic acid?
Folate intake from food is not associated with any health risk. The risk of toxicity from folic acid intake from supplements and/or fortified foods is also low. It is a water soluble vitamin, so any excess intake is usually excreted in urine. There is some evidence that high levels of folic acid can provoke seizures in patients taking anti-convulsant medications . Anyone taking such medications should consult with a medical doctor before taking a folic acid supplement.


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