THE IMPORTANCE OF FOLIC ACID IN PREGNANCY

Folic acid is water soluble B-complex vitamin found in leafy vegetables, kidney and liver. Folic acid and folate are 2 forms of the same B vitamin.

Folate is the form that occurs naturally in foods while Folic acid is synthetic. Your body needs folic acid to make new cells such as brain cells, blood cells and DNA and RNA, the genetic material inside your cells. Folic acid actually better absorbed than that folate from food sources—85% vs. 50%.

Neither folate nor folic acid is metabolically active. Both must be reduced to participate in cellular metabolism. l-5-Methyltetrahydrofolate (l-methylfolate) is the predominant micronutrient form of folate that circulates in plasma and that is involved in biologic processes

During pregnancy your body needs more Folic acid because it helps your baby’s brain and spinal cord develop normally. Folic acid can seriously reduce the risk of Neural Tube defects in your baby.

What are Neural Tube Defects? (NTD’S)

Neural tube defects (NTDs) are major birth defects of a baby’s brain or spine. They happen when the neural tube (that later turns into the brain and spine) doesn’t form right, and the baby’s brain or spine is damaged. This happens within the first few weeks a woman is pregnant, often before a woman knows that she is pregnant. That is why it’s important for mothers to take start taking a prenatal even before pregnancy.  The two most common NTDs are spina bifida and anencephaly. These birth defects can cause lifelong disability or death.

Many—but not all–NTDs can be prevented by getting enough of the B vitamin folic acid every day, starting before a woman gets pregnant. If a woman has enough folic acid in her body before and during pregnancy, her baby is less likely to have an NTD. Women need to take folic acid every day and need to start before they get pregnant. Every woman who could possibly get pregnant should take about 400 micrograms – 1,000mcg of folic acid daily in a vitamin or in foods that have been enriched with folic acid.

Women who have a familial history of Neural Tube defects have been known to take 5,000mcg or 5mg of Folic Acid. Folic acid might help to prevent some other birth defects, such as cleft lip and palate and some heart defects. There might also be other health benefits of taking folic acid for both women and men. More research is needed to confirm these other health benefits.

In 2007, new recommendations were published for dosing folic acid for pre-conception, pregnancy, and lactation.

Maternal folic acid supplementation before conception and during early pregnancy has been shown to prevent at least half the cases of NTDs and up to 70% of the cases of spina bifida. In 1991, a British study demonstrated that recurrent NTDs could be reduced by taking 4000 μg/day of folic acid. This was followed in 1992 by a Hungarian study that demonstrated that 800 μg/day of folic acid reduced the first occurrence of a neural tube defect.

There are also other uses and health benefits that can be derived from Folic acid intake such as:

Heart Disease

A meta-analysis of 30 randomized controlled trials found a 10% lower risk of stroke and 4% lower risk of overall cardiovascular diseases with folic acid supplementation. There was no significant effect on heart disease alone. However, the greatest benefit was seen for people with lower blood levels of folate and without a history of cardiovascular diseases. The supplements also appeared to most benefit those whose homocysteine levels had the greatest drop.

Preterm Birth

Preterm birth (PTB), defined as delivery prior to 37 weeks of gestation. It is a major cause of neonatal mortality and morbidity. Infants born preterm are at risk of short-term respiratory, gastrointestinal, immunologic, and central nervous system complications, as well as long-term motor, cognitive, and neurobehavioral sequelae.

The treatment of preterm labor has focused primarily on inhibiting uterine contractions, which has been shown neither to reduce the incidence of PTB nor improve neonatal outcome. In the face of such therapeutic nihilism, attention has turned instead to prevention. One of the agents under investigation to prevent PTB in both low- and high-risk populations is folic acid.

Indirect evidence suggests that folate may indeed be important in the timing of labor. In observational studies, a shorter duration of pregnancy has been associated with low serum folate levels and with the absence of folic acid supplementation during pregnancy.

 

Folic Acid Deficiency

Folate deficiency has been associated with abnormalities in both mothers (anemia, peripheral neuropathy) and fetuses (congenital abnormalities). It is rare because it is found in a wide range of foods. However, the following conditions may put people at increased risk:

  • Alcoholism. Alcohol interferes with the absorption of folate and speeds the rate that folate breaks down and is excreted from the body. People with alcoholism also tend to eat poor-quality diets low in folate-containing foods.
  • The need for folate increases during pregnancy as it plays a role in the development of cells in the fetus.
  • Intestinal surgeries or digestive disorders that cause malabsorption. Celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease can decrease the absorption of folate. Surgeries involving the digestive organs or that reduce the normal level of stomach acid may also interfere with absorption.
  • Genetic variants.People carrying a variant of the gene MTHFR cannot convert folate to its active form to be used by the body.

Safepreg contains 800mcg of Folic acid per tablet which offers an adequate amount of Folic acid. It is taken as one tablet per day and it contains 20 vitamins and minerals. The content of Folic acid in Safepreg ensures that folate deficiency doesn’t occur especially during pregnancy when it is needed the most.

 

Written by;

Pharm. Dipo Adetuyi

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