A Simple Supplement Can Prevent Serious Birth Defects

A Simple Supplement Can Prevent Serious Birth Defects

By: Steven Berkman, M.D.

Each year we observe Folic Acid Awareness Week in January as part of National Birth Defects Prevention Month. Start the New Year off right by taking a multivitamin with 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. Your bodyBerkman_B7rt2-1 uses folic acid to stay healthy, and it is an important supplement for pregnant women as well.

Many women ignore multivitamins because they eat healthy foods. However, it is hard to get certain vitamins from food alone. Folate, a different form of folic acid, is found in foods such as leafy green vegetables, beans, liver and some fruit, but 50 to 90 percent of food folate is destroyed in cooking. Folic acid is a B-vitamin that is necessary for proper cell growth. If taken before and during early pregnancy, folic acid can prevent up to 70 percent of some of the serious birth defects that can affect the fetal brain and spine, called neural tube defects (NTD), which include spina bifida and anencephaly. Folic acid is easier for your body to absorb than folate and is easily ingested through multivitamins and fortified foods like breakfast cereal, pasta and bread. Multivitamins help fill those nutritional gaps in the diet, especially when it comes to getting enough folic acid.

The CDC and the U.S. Public Health Service recommend that all women between the ages of 15 and 45 consume 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily. Since birth defects can develop within the first few weeks of pregnancy, it is important to have enough folic acid in your body BEFORE becoming pregnant and continue getting enough folic acid during early pregnancy.  Women need folic acid even if they are not planning to become pregnant since almost half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned.

Some women may be at higher risk. Not only do Latinas have higher rates of NTD-affected pregnancies, but they also have the lowest awareness/knowledge about folic acid than non-Hispanic women. In addition, Latinas consume less folic acid than non-Hispanic women. But, regardless of ethnicity, folic acid is an important nutrient for all women.

Dr. Steven R. Berkman is part of Bay Obstetrics and Gynecology, affiliated with Raritan Bay Medical Center, a member of the Hackensack Meridian Health family.  The Bay physicians are all board certified and provide comprehensive healthcare for women of all ages. Dr. Berkman’s office is located at 740 Route 1 North, Iselin, NJ. To schedule an appointment, call 732-362-3840. 


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