When we hear of folic acid (also called folate), many of us instantly think of pregnancy. While it's true that women who are trying to conceive need to make sure they get enough folic acid, it's important for all women of child-bearing age to get sufficient doses. This is because adequate folic acid before conception and during the early stages of pregnancy can help reduce birth defects in your baby. Consider how many women are surprised by an unplanned pregnancy and how often women are unaware they are pregnant at the earliest stages of pregnancy.
Folic acid is actually a B vitamin — B9, to be precise. You'll find it in orange juice and leafy green vegetables such as kale and spinach. Other foods, such as breads, are enriched with this vitamin. In fact, it became mandatory in Canada that folic acid be added to white flour, cornmeal and pasta in 1998. But eating fortified foods doesn't supply your body with sufficient quantities of folic acid, so supplementation is recommended.
According to Health Canada, women of child-bearing age who follow Canada's Food Guide should take a multivitamin containing 400 micrograms of folic acid, as this is enough to keep your body ready for a healthy baby. If you are planning to conceive but not taking a multivitamin as part of your daily regimen, you should begin supplementing with this amount of folic acid at least three months before you start trying to get pregnant. And if you've had a pregnancy that was affected by a neural tube defect, your doctor may recommend you take a higher dose of folate to lower your risk of it occurring again.
Neural tube defects linked to a folate deficiency include spina bifida (a defect that involves the spinal cord and column not completely closing), anencephaly (a severe underdevelopment of the brain) and encephalocele (a defect in which the brain tissue protrudes out to the skin from an opening in the skull). These defects occur in the first four weeks of pregnancy, which, as mentioned earlier, is often before women realize they are pregnant.
So do this for yourself today: Take a minute to check your multivitamin for how much folate it contains, and talk to your doctor about any questions and concerns.
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