Q. What is folic acid?
A. Folic acid is one of the B vitamins. Folic acid is found in oranges, grapefruits, lemons, dark green leafy vegetables, beans, peas, and lentils. You also can get folic acid by eating cereals, breads and other grain products that have folic acid added to them. These products are called enriched or fortified. Look at the food label to find the amount of folic acid in the food.
Q. Why is folic acid important for women?
A. Taking folic acid can help prevent birth defects. Each year about 4,000 pregnancies are affected by birth defects of the spine and brain. These problems are called neural tube defects and take place within the first 28 days of pregnancy. The two most common forms of neural tube defects are spina bifida and anencephaly. Babies born with spina bifida may be paralyzed, and have problems in the knees or feet; bladder and bowel control problems; learning disabilities; and mental retardation. Babies with anencephaly do not develop a brain or have only a partial brain. These babies die before birth or soon after they are born.
Doctors say that up to 3,000 of these neural tube birth defects can be prevented if women take 400 micrograms of folic acid everyday before becoming pregnant and during the first three months of pregnancy. Even women who are not planning to get pregnant should take 400 micrograms of folic acid everyday.
Folic acid is important for women of all ages because it can help prevent heart disease and stroke.
Q. What is the best way for women to get their folic acid?
A. Doctors say the best way for women to get folic acid is to take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid everyday and eat foods rich in folic acid like dark green leafy vegetables, peas, beans, lentils, oranges, grapefruits, and lemons, and enriched breads and cereals.