Folic acid still essential for all women of childbearing age

May 10, 2016 in Nutrition Topics in the News, Pregnancy and Breastfeeding, Vitamins, Minerals, Supplements, Women's Health

Folic acid still essential for all women of childbearing age

The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) still says that all women planning to have a child or capable of having one take 0.4 to 0.8 milligrams of folic acid in a supplement daily, according to a new statement from the government-backed panel.

Folic acid, found naturally in lentils and vegetables like spinach, asparagus and broccoli and added to some fortified cereals, helps prevent neural tube defects in a developing fetus.

Neural tube defects include spina bifida, where the spinal cord doesn’t close completely, and anencephaly, where parts of the brain are missing.

These birth defects typically happen in the first month of pregnancy. 

Many U.S. women still don’t get enough folic acid

The USPSTF issued the same recommendation in 2009, but most women still do not get the recommended 0.4 mg of folic acid daily. A 2007–2012 national survey found that only 29 percent of women of childbearing age were taking a folic acid supplement – and half of those were taking less than the recommended dose.

Women with a personal or family history of neural tube defects are at much higher risk of having a child with a neural tube defect. Taking a folic acid supplement from one month before conception to two or three months of pregnancy can greatly reduce these risks.

Women who find out they are pregnant but who haven’t been taking the supplements should go ahead and start taking them as soon as they find out, experts advise.

The benefits are clear and there are no known significant harms of folic acid supplements.

Source: USPSTF, online May 10, 2016.

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