Folic acid in pregnancy: what is it for?

A pregnant woman has a precious ally for the well-being of her growing baby: vitamin B9 or folic acid.

It is not so often that science finds certainty in its research. Folic acid is a wonderful exception and a great recent discovery. Helps the fetus to develop strong and healthy. Today we know that it is certainly of great help to take it, especially in a particular moment such as pregnancy . But let’s find out together what a future mother should know, whether she is already pregnant or simply looking for a baby.


What is folic acid?

It is a vitamin that is absorbed in the intestine, simplified, activated by the liver and then distributed to the tissues for cell reproduction. It is easy to understand that when another (whole, however small) human being is forming inside us, therefore during a pregnancy , a substance like this is essential for the production of red blood cells and the generation of new cells. Folic acid is also known as vitamin B9 or folate. It is called “folic” from the word leaf , because it is present in quantity in green leafy plants. To find out first was an English researcher named Lucy Wills in 1939, but to understand what importance it had in pregnancyin the prevention of many developmental defects, we had to wait until the 1990s. In 1990, scientists clearly defined the role of folic acid in preventing neural tube defects (NTDs). With this acronym we refer to congenital malformations that are triggered already in the very first weeks of development of the embryo (between conception and the 28th day of pregnancy) and of which we talk in more detail below.

To understand how important this discovery was, it is enough to know that in the United States (but also in Sweden since 1998) the food industries are required by law to integrate folic acid in some of their foods , such as flour. The results of this American government stance on companies are exceptional in terms of prevention: today overseas babies are born with a perfect central nervous system (in statistical terms, not absolute, of course).


Pregnancy: what is folic acid used for?

Many genetic malformations of the fetus can be avoided by taking the right amounts of folic acid. Its effectiveness for the well-being of the developing baby is enormous. Recent research estimates that 7 out of 10 cases of neonatal malformations would be avoidable with a correct dietary supplement of folina. One child in every 1,500 of new born in Italy suffers from this problem. You may have never heard of DTN, but you will have heard of spina bifida instead. This consists of severe deformation of the spinal cord (non-closed vertebrae) which can lead to paralysis of the legs, improper growth of the skeleton and psychomotor problems. Even a malformation of the skull such asfolic acid before pregnancy and in the very first moments of gestation.


When to start taking folic acid?

You shouldn’t wait until you’re pregnant. Those who are trying to become a mother and have planned a pregnancy must absolutely take advantage of the benefits of folic acid and start taking it as soon as possible by asking their doctor to recommend the daily amount.

How long before the much desired conception takes place should start? The ideal would be one month before, to continue this good practice up to three months after the birth.

A planned pregnancy has many advantages over an incidental one, which is well accepted but not counted in advance. Quitting smoking, drinking alcohol and starting to take folina supplements are the key things that only a woman planning to become a mother can take into account well before the test gives her the long-awaited positive result.

For those who discover that they are pregnant, folic acid should be taken as soon as possible.


Folic acid in the diet

Folate is present in common foods, but it is not enough for a pregnant woman who has a great need and who, whatever her diet, will therefore use tablets as a solution to integrate this substance in the right quantity.

Folic acid is found mainly in leafy vegetables such as spinach, lettuce, watercress. It is found in milk (and therefore in yogurt and cheeses). Other green vegetables that contain it in good doses are zucchini, asparagus and artichokes. There is folina in legumes such as beans, broad beans and chickpeas. Eggs, liver and cod are also rich in folic acid. Among the fruits are oranges, avocado (although not sweet it is a fruit) and delicious strawberries those that have the most. The good news: in chocolate there is a little folic acid: but that it does not become an excuse to abuse it, especially during pregnancy when the glycemic index must be kept under control!

Cooking food further decreases the amount of naturally occurring folic acid. This is another reason to resort to supplements and not be satisfied with a diet, however good, healthy and rich in the foods we have mentioned above.


The doses of folic acid in pregnancy

Who prescribes folic acid to the expectant mother? Obviously the gynecologist who follows her will most likely be the first thing he will prescribe – along with some tests – to the patient to begin the long nine-month process of gestation. This will take place during the first gynecological visit  (if not earlier, when possible) which is also among the most exciting of appointments with the doctor.

In the pharmacy, capsules of 0.4 mg of folic acid are available, alone or in combination with other useful substances, such as vitamins and salts. But be careful, multivitamins must be specifically indicated for pregnancy , so do not choose by yourself which one is right for you, as they may contain ingredients that are not recommended for a future mother.

There are also 0.2 or 0.3 mg pharmaceutical compounds, these may be prescribed by the treating physician to be taken several times a day, rather than just once as is the case with 0.4 mg products.

If you are pregnant and think you can supplement folic acid by eating spinach at any time of the day or night, know that you are wrong. And you are wrong both from a nutritional point of view by binging on a food (however healthy in itself like spinach), and from the point of view of supplementing folina, because there is no basket of spinach that can replace an acid tablet. folic prescribed by the doctor and purchased at the pharmacy.


What is folic acid good for if you are not pregnant?

Not only the fetus and the mother benefit from the qualities of folic acid. There are a number of diseases that a good intake of vitamin B9 can prevent. One above all is pernicious anemia, which manifests itself as an inability of the marrow to produce mature red blood cells. Folin also plays a fundamental role in some heart defects, mouth and palate problems such as cleft lip and obstructive uropathies (those diseases that make it difficult or impossible to pee).

A curiosity, for men and women. Folic acid also plays an interesting role from an aesthetic point of view. In fact, it is essential to prevent baldness and to stop the premature appearance of white hair. But don’t cry out for the miracle remedy right away! Let’s understand each other better: a lack of vitamin B9 would be a factor in the aging of the bulbs, but for the definitive cure for falling and graying, researchers around the world are still looking for an answer.

But how much folic acid should non- pregnant people take every day with good nutrition ? The  daily requirement  of folic acid is 0.2 milligrams. How to do? In your menus, remember to often include a nice large-leaf lettuce salad or a side of spinach and zucchini. From time to time, bring liver (chicken or beef) to the table and add muesli or bran for breakfast. That should be enough.


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