03 Jan The Role of Folic Acid in a Healthy Pregnancy
Folic acid, a form of folate which is widely available in supplement form, is an essential B vitamin which plays a vital role in red blood cell production. This wonder vitamin helps ensure healthy hemoglobin levels in the blood, preventing the development of anemia.
Women who are planning to have children are usually encouraged to take a daily folic acid supplement, both during conception and pregnancy because of its health benefits for mother and baby alike.
In this article, we take a closer look at folic acid and why it is such an essential component of every woman’s daily supplement lineup.
A building block of good health
Blood may not be something we often, or even like to think about, but it is one of the most essential components in the human body.
Our red blood cells are responsible for transporting oxygen to every other cell, keeping our organs functioning optimally and allowing us to carry out our daily activities with ease. They also carry carbon dioxide away to be removed from the body.
The body produces red blood cells using three main components: iron, folic acid, and vitamin B12. If any of these substances is lacking in the body, anemia can result.
For many women, heavy menstrual bleeding can also cause a deficiency of iron, while many people struggle to consume enough folic acid in their diets.
Essential during pregnancy – and beyond
During pregnancy, the growing fetus requires a steady supply of vitamins and minerals in order to develop into a healthy baby.
Babies whose mothers are folic acid deficient run the risk of developing Neural Tube Defect (NTD), a neurological condition that can have a huge impact on the child’s development and quality of life.
- NTD is almost entirely preventable through folic acid supplementation, yet it remains prevalent in many parts of the world, with South Asian nations being some of the worst-affected.
- In South Africa, the number of babies born with NTD is roughly 1 in 1 000, a figure which has come down since certain food products began to be fortified with folic acid several years ago.
- Women who take folic acid during pregnancy may also lower their risk of miscarriages.
Given the risks involved in being folic acid deficient during pregnancy, a surprising number of women still go through their first trimester without taking a supplement.
Fortunately, while folic acid is not only one of the most crucial supplements that women who are pregnant (or in the process of conceiving) can take – it’s also one of the most readily available.
How much folic acid should women take during pregnancy?
It is recommended that women take 400mcg of folic acid every day – from the time they start to try and conceive until the twelfth week of gestation.
When selecting a folic acid pill the “Supplement Facts” on the vitamin label should give a good indication as to how much folic acid is in each tablet, which should be between 400mcg to an upper limit of 800 mcg.
The specific supplement and diet plan for a woman in the latter stages of pregnancy should be determined by her doctor, dietician and complementary medicine practitioner.
After childbirth, folic acid is still extremely beneficial. Healthy levels of folic acid help prevent a type of blood disorder called folate-deficiency anemia.
Folate found in certain foods
Spinach, brocolli and other dark green leafy vegetables are naturally high in folate, which can also be found in nuts, beans, oranges and whole grains.
Folic acid, on the other hand, is added to refined or procesed foods such as breakfast cereals, bread, pasta, white rice and cornmeal.
SA’s baby boom: good news for the supplement industry
With more than a million babies born in South Africa each year, the market for pregnancy-specific folic acid supplementation is large and lucrative.
If you’re a folic acid manufacturer, distributor or retailer and would like to gain insights into the South African market that will help you grow your business, contact us today for expert advice.