what is folic acid?

Folic acid is one of the B vitamins needed to make healthy new cells.

Foods high in folic acid include several vegetables such as spinach, lettuces, dried beans and peas,  sunflower seeds and certain some fruits and vegetables are rich folic acid sources of foods with folic acid. Some breakfast cereals are also folic acid foods  that are fortified. Other sources of folic acid are Vegemite and Marmite.

It is known that folic acid supplementation can reduce the incidence of neural tube defects including spina bifida9101, 9501, 9601. We don‚€™t know exactly how folic acid works to prevent birth defects but  folic acid is needed to make healthy new cells, like those that make up a baby‚€™s brain and spine. Taking folic acid every day, starting before and during pregnancy, can reduce the risk for these serious birth defects by around 60%. The benefits of folic acid not any include the reduction of birth defects but it also prevents folic acid deficiency anamia.

Every woman who could possibly get pregnant should take 400 micrograms (400 mcg or 0.4 mg)  folic acid tablets daily in a vitamin or in foods that have been enriched with folic acid.

Folic acid side effects are uncommon but mild stomach discomfort can occur.

There are two simple ways to ensure that you get enough folate each day:

  • Take one vitamin supplement with folic acid each day. Most multivitamins have the amount of folic acid women need each day. Women can also choose to take a small pill that has only folic acid in it each day. Both types of vitamins can be found at most local pharmacy, or supermarkets.


  • Eat a breakfast cereal that has 100% of the daily requirement of folic acid per serving every day.

Women should eat a healthy diet that has plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods. Neural tube defects include malformations of the spine (spina bifida), skull, and brain (anencephaly). The risk of neural tube defects is significantly reduced when supplemental folic acid is consumed in addition to a healthy diet prior to and during the first month following conception.0801 Women who could become pregnant are also advised to take folic acid during pregnancy; they are advised to eat foods fortified with folic acid or take supplements in addition to eating folate-rich foods to reduce the risk of birth defects. Taking 400 micrograms of synthetic folic acid daily from fortified foods and/or supplements should be recommended. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for folate e quivalents for pregnant women is 600-800 micrograms.

If a couple have had a pregnancy where the baby or foetus had a neural tube defect (NTD- spina-bifida type problem) they have an increased risk of a similar problem recurring in the order of one in a hundred. Controlled trials (placebo and controlled trials) have demonstrated that folic acid supplements (4 or 5mg daily) reduces this risk by 75% and it is believed that benefit is likely even if you have never experienced such a problem. The folic acid is not specifically recommended because of infertility but would be advised for any woman planning to conceive.

During 2000 and 2002, all of the women having pregnancies with birth defects and women whose pregnancies were without any birth defects were interviewed. Nine NTDs were recorded from 25,444 pregnancies (NTD birth prevalence = 0.35/1,000 pregnancies) in the intervention group and 48 NTDs among 26,599 pregnancies (NTD birth prevalence = 1.80/1,000 pregnancies) in the control group. The protective rate was 80.4%. The study suggests that multivitamin supplement containing folic acid taken from a time point of 2 months before conception and continuing until completion of the second month after conception and taken more than five times per week can significantly reduce the risks of NTDs.0801

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This is the personal website of David A Viniker MD FRCOG, retired Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist - Specialist Interests - Reproductive Medicine including Infertility, PCOS, PMS, Menopause and HRT.
I do hope that you find the answers to your women's health questions in the patient information and medical advice provided.

I do hope that you find the answers to your women's health questions in the patient information and medical advice provided.

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The aim of this web site is to provide a general guide and it is not intended as a substitute for a consultation with an appropriate specialist in respect of individual care and treatment.

David Viniker retired from active clinical practice in 2012.
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