Taking folic acid, when and why?

Before you want to become pregnant, it is wise to start taking folic acid, but what actually is folic acid and why is it so important to take it? You only need to take extra folic acid for a certain period of time, why especially during this period and why you cannot do this alone by eating food rich in folic acid is also explained.

What is folic acid?

Folic acid is a vitamin that your body needs to stay healthy. Folic acid, for example, is found in fresh vegetables, fruit and whole grain products. It is one of the few vitamins that we do not always get enough of. It is also called vitamin B11, folate or citrovorum factor. When folic acid is found in food or drinks, it is called tetrahydrofolates. If it is in supplements (extra additives), the form is called pteroylmonoglutamic acid (PMG). You should take these supplements (1 tablet) every day, four weeks before you want to become pregnant until at least 10 weeks after you become pregnant. For many women, this means that they start taking folic acid when they stop taking the pill. After 10 weeks the most important work has been done, which is why you only have to take it until week 10.

How much and where can you get it?

The recommended daily amount for women who want to become pregnant or are already pregnant is 400 to 500 micrograms. Folic acid is found in vegetables, especially green vegetables, dairy products, whole grain products, bread and meat. By eating this, everyone can get enough folic acid, but this does not apply to pregnant women. It is not possible for pregnant women to eat the desired amount. This would mean that a pregnant woman would have to eat at least 50 extra brown beans, 50 brown sandwiches, 5 kilos of potatoes or half a kilo of Brussels sprouts. In addition, the folic acid from a pill is absorbed faster than that from food. As an example, the absorption of folic acid from a potato is 30-50% lower than that from a folic acid pill. You can simply buy folic acid at a drugstore or pharmacy. Ask for tablets of 0.4 or 0.5 milligrams (mg). You do not need a prescription from a doctor for this. You can also use special multivitamins for pregnant women. These tablets also contain folic acid. Always check the packaging to see whether a tablet contains the correct amount of folic acid. You can buy multivitamins without a prescription at a drugstore or pharmacy.

Why should it be swallowed?

It is necessary for the growth and proper functioning of your own body and for the production of white/red blood cells. But folic acid is also very important for the early development of your unborn child. This reduces the risk of a neural tube defect (NBD). But the risk of cleft lip and open palate also decreases. Folic acid contributes to the development and formation of the nervous system, this development of the nervous system is initiated from the first day after fertilization.

Did you swallow too long or too short?

Some women do not know that they are pregnant until late and therefore start taking folic acid late. As a result, folic acid may be used for much longer than is necessary according to the advice. That’s no problem. In other people, a very serious folic acid deficiency can cause anemia, intestinal disorders, fatigue and birth defects. Even if it takes a long time for someone to become pregnant, it is good to continue taking folic acid. Even if it takes months, a year or more to get pregnant. Even with a maximum of 1000 micrograms per day, there is no risk of excess folic acid. There are also no indications that too much folic acid from the diet is harmful. Synthetic folic acid contained in tablets can be harmful if the dosage is too high. These tablets can conceal the detection of abnormalities in the nervous system in people with a vitamin B12 deficiency.

When should you consult your doctor:

  • If a child has previously been born with spina bifida. If you/your partner were born with spina bifida. For these two reasons you need a higher dose of folic acid and this must be based on a doctor’s prescription and/or
  • If diabetes or epilepsy or other serious conditions run in the family and/or
  • If you have had multiple miscarriages and/or
  • If you are taking medications that could be harmful.
  • If you have anemia caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency. If you have anemia, the cause of the anemia must first be examined by the doctor.

What causes reduced absorption and what causes increased absorption?

Long-term and excessive use of alcohol and a long-term deficiency of vitamin B12 cause a deficiency of folic acid. The ethanol in alcohol disrupts the absorption of folic acid. The deficiency of B12 can cause anemia. Vitamin C actually promotes the absorption of folic acid in your body. Food products with a high vitamin C dose retain more folic acid when heated than products with a lower vitamin C dose.

Other health effects

Taking folic acid could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. It could also protect against colon cancer (while too much folic acid could increase colon cancer). Scientific research has proven that there is a relationship between low folic acid levels and dementia. And finally, folic acid could have a beneficial effect on depressive symptoms. However, all these benefits of folic acid have not yet been sufficiently proven.

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