January 5-11 is Folic Acid Awareness Week



 You never know what 2015 will bring. Will this be the year you have a baby? Because about 50 percent of all pregnancies are unplanned, whether or not you’re planning to have a baby, you can take steps that will keep you healthy and give your possible baby a healthy start in life. 

January 5-11 is Folic Acid Awareness Week and a great time to start taking a multivitamin with 400 mcg of the B- vitamin folic acid every day. Starting before pregnancy begins is an important way to reduce the risk of birth defects of the brain or spine called neural tube defects (NTD) by up to 70 percent. NTDs occur in the first weeks of fetal development, often before a woman even knows she is pregnant. The most common NTDs are Spina Bifida and anencephaly.

What is folic acid and why do you need it?

Folic acid is the synthetic form of the naturally occurring folate, found in foods such as leafy green vegetables, beans, liver and some fruit. Folic acid is found in multivitamins and fortified foods like breakfast cereal, pasta and bread. Scientists don’t know exactly why, but folic acid – the synthetic version – is easier for your body to absorb than folate. Plus, folate loses its potency easily and is hard to get in large amounts.

Folic acid is an essential B vitamin that creates and regenerates cells in your body. Therefore, everyone needs it in order to stay in good health. Folic acid helps build DNA and your body uses it for cell growth and reproduction, fundamental building block processing and genetic material production. Folic acid is water soluble; therefore it passes through your body very quickly. Taking folic acid every day ensures that you always have it in your system.

Folic acid has additional, protective effects. Studies show that folic acid reduces the risk of certain cancers; cardiovascular diseases including coronary heart disease and stroke; and cognitive diseases or mental conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, age-related dementia or cognitive decline and depression.

Since half of pregnancies are unplanned, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Public Health Service recommend that all women of childbearing age take 400 mcg of folic acid every day, even if you’re not planning to get pregnant. The best and most reliable way to get that amount is to take a multivitamin, B vitamin complex pill or folic acid pill.

Hispanic babies are 1.5 to 2 times more likely than others in the United States to be born with a NTD. The CDC reports that Latinas in the United States consume the least amount of folic acid and have the least knowledge about folic acid among racial or ethnic groups in this country. For this reason, the Spina Bifida Association created a public service announcement in Spanish to encourage Latinas of childbearing age to take folic acid daily.

In 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration started fortifying grain and cereal products with folic acid in order to reduce neural tube defects. While this was a great step in the fight to prevent birth defects, it is not enough to protect all women  and their potential children.

Sara Struwe, President and CEO of the Spina Bifida Association, explains, “All women of child bearing age should take a multivitamin every day be sure they get consistent amounts of other vitamins and minerals like A, C, B6, E, Iron and Calcium.” She added, “Eating a healthy diet and exercising are recommended in addition to taking a multivitamin every day.”

The Spina Bifida Association (SBA) works to educate consumers and health care providers about the benefits and uses of folic acid. SBA serves adults and children who live with the challenges of Spina Bifida and since 1973, has been the only national voluntary health agency solely dedicated to enhancing the lives of those with Spina Bifida and those whose lives are touched by this challenging birth defect. Its tools are education, advocacy, research, and service.

For more information about folic acid, please visit

About the Author

Juanita Panlener is the National Resource Center Manager for the Spina Bifida Association

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