Folic Acid Awareness Week draws attention to pre-natal needs

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Health Department stresses importance during pregnancy

By Josey Crew

You never know what the New Year will bring. So, whether or not you’re planning to have a baby this year, you can start the new year with habits that will help give a baby a healthy start in life.

Last week was 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 by up to 70 percent. NTDs occur in the first weeks of fetal development, often before a woman even knows she is pregnant.

Hispanic babies are 1.5 to 2 times more likely than others in the United States to be born with a neural tube defect. 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. 

What is folic acid and why do you need it?

Think you are getting all of the vitamins you need from your diet alone? Think again. Most people don’t know that it is hard to get certain vitamins from food alone. Many believe they don’t need to take multivitamins because they eat healthy foods. Multivitamins help fill in those nutrition gaps in the diet, especially when it comes to getting enough folic acid.

Folic acid is an essential B vitamin; 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.

Other than being needed to create and regenerate cells in your body, it also has 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.

For women in their childbearing years, it is particularly important to consume 400 mcg of folic acid daily. It has been shown to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in developing babies by up to 70 percent. Since 50 percent of pregnancies are unplanned, it’s important to take folic acid every day even if you’re not planning to get pregnant. Neural tube defects are birth defects of the brain and spine. The most common are Spina Bifida and anencephaly.

Don’t wait until it’s too late, start getting your folic acid today.

Josey Crew, RD, LD is a clinical dietitian for Lincoln Trail District Health Department.  Nutrition counseling is available for children and adults by appointment at the LaRue County Health Center. Monthly classes are offered for weight loss and people with diabetes. For more information, call 270-358-3844.