What is a healthy pregnancy without folic acid?
Also known as Vitamin B9 or folate, folic acid remains a principal nutrient for the development of a healthy foetus and baby. Folate can be found in green leafy vegetables, beans and grains. It is called “folic acid” in its synthetic form in supplements.
Folic acid is not usually stored in the body since it is a water soluble vitamin; meaning, unused amounts leave the body through urine. Therefore, high strength folic acid should be taken consistently, since the body does not have access to it everytime (Remember it gets removed as urine). Meanwhile, folic acid is not a vitamin that is strictly meant for pregnant women. Every young woman who is capable of reproducing should introduce folic acid into her diet.
The common question of “Why even bother, since I am not pregnant right?” would be answered in this article. It will ensure that when next you go shopping, you wouldn’t hesitate to grab that bottle of folic acid for yourself, your sibling, or your friend!
Folic acid is used by the body to manufacture DNA.
DNA, which stands for deoxyribonucleic acid, is the hereditary material in humans and majority of other organisms. It is located mainly in the cell nucleus, but a small amount of deoxyribonucleic acid is also found in the mitochondria. Mitochondria are like the power house of a cell; they release energy for other cells in the body to perform their functions. Therefore, optimum level of DNA in the mitochondria is required for healthy function of mitochondria. Infact, folate treatment has very high positive effect incases of mitochondrial DNA deletions. Additionaly, healthy mitochondria increases the activity of reproductive cells (remember that mitochondria is the power house of the cell releasing energy), so the female reproductive cell which is the Ovum(Ova–plural) gains more vitality and then when you are ready to have a baby, getting pregnant wouldn’t be an issue! Well, you may wonder: “Men also have mitochondria, right? So why don’t they seem to need folic acid?” Actually, they do. Infact, it is so much needed because sperm cells travel at a faster speed than female eggs, and this means they need an even healthier mitochondria. Therefore, the chain goes like this:
HIGH STRENGTH FOLIC ACID - DNA PRODUCTION - HEALTHY MITOCHONDRIA - ACTIVE REPRODUCTIVE CELLS – IMPROVED FERTILITY.
Folic acid helps to prevent cancer:
Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the world, yet it does not have a known cause. Anyone could come up with cancer and it is really not easy fighting cancer as it is an exhausting, life-changing disease. Nonetheless, cancer can be attributed to gene mutations. There are individual genes in the body cells, each of which contains a set of instructions telling the cell what tasks to carry out, as well as how to grow and divide. However, once gene mutation comes in to play, some errors in the instruction can cause the cell to stop its normal function and become cancerous. When this happens, the gene mutation would cause the cells to grow and divide more rapidly. This creates many cells that all have that same mutation. The level of tumour suppresses or genes drops and cancer cells accumulate constantly. Likewise, gene mutations occur for several reasons: the gene mutations one is born with and those that are acquired throughout one’s life work together to cause cancer. So a person born with a genetic mutation inherited from the parents is at risk of cancer. Furthermore, forces like smoking, radiation, viruses, chronic inflammation and cancer-inducing chemicals(carcinogens) cause the cells to become more cancerous. This means that, in order to reduce your risk of having cancer, and that of your unborn children, you have to “supply them with healthy genes”, as babies replicate their parents’ genetic information like the common “I got it from my mama or I got it from my papa talk”. Luckily, folic acid provides and helps you with that!
Taking folic acid helps to strongly reduce the risk of cancer, especially colorectal cancer. Interestingly, folic acid helps cancerous cells grow too. Research shows that once mutated cells are on their way to becoming cancers, the vitamin makes things worse. Therefore, early detection by observing the body for strange symptoms like chronic headache, breast changes, excessive bruising and changes in bathroom habits can help. Thereafter, if the presence of cancer cells are established, high strength folic acid should be avoided; while, if there are no cancer cells, folic acid should be taken to prevent them in the bodies and in future babies to come. Note that the recommended dose of folic acid before pregnancy is 400 mcg.
Going further, folic acid also has major advantages during pregnancy itself. What are these advantages every expectant mother should pay attention to?
Folic acid protects against neural tube defects(NTDs).
Neural tube defects happen when one of the openings in the spinal cord does not close properly during early pregnancy. A neural tube joins the brain to the spinal cord. So, these defects affect the brain of the foetus. NTDs lead to spina bifida or Anencephaly. Spinal bifida is the incomplete development of the spinal cord or the vertebrae; while, Anencephaly is the incomplete development of major parts of the brain. These are life time disorders and most babies with NTDs don’t usually survive infancy. It is important to know the chances of having a baby with NTDs. A baby’s central nervous system starts to develop early in pregnancy, therefore, deficiency of folic acid in the early days of pregnancy can cause NTDs. By week six of a pregnancy, the presence of neural canal defects can be detected pretty early! A detailed ultra sound examination of the baby’s head and spine or a blood test that measures the level of a protein called “alphafeto protein” are ways to detect NTDs in the second trimester of pregnancy. High strength folic acid is strongly advised in the first trimester of pregnancy.
Some women may need a larger daily dose of folic acid. These are women who:
- Have a family history of NTDs
- Have underlying conditions like diabetes, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease and liver disease.
- Have had gastric surgery
- Have had a previous still born infant with either a NTD or not
- Have a history of alcohol abuse or drug abuse.
Folic acid prevents folate deficiency anaemia and pre-eclampsia.
In addition to its other properties, folic acid is a B vitamin that helps the body make red blood cells and is also responsible for their growth. Red blood cells are cells that provide oxygen to body tissues. Therefore, a deficiency of folic acid in pregnancy affects the production of the mother’s red blood cells; this in turn causes anaemia, which, would cause defects in the unborn child as there is no perfect flow of oxygen. Most persons believe anaemia is caused by deficiency of iron, but this kind of anaemia is called folate deficiency anaemia and it occurs as often as the ‘lack of iron’-induced and it is really dangerous in pregnancy. Consequently, high strength folic acid should be taken consistently as early as possible in pregnancy. On the other hand, pre-eclampsia, also called toxaemia, is a potentially threatening pregnancy complication identified by high blood pressure. Folic acid plays a significant role in reducing the occurrence of pre-eclampsia. Early in pregnancy, new blood vessels develop to efficiently send blood to the placenta.In women with pre-eclampsia, these blood vessels do not develop properly so there is an increased pressure on the present blood vessels as they have to constantly send blood to the placenta for the developing baby. If this disorder is left undiagnosed and untreated, it can cause maternal and infant death. Consequently, it is important for a pregnant woman to supplement her diet with folic acid.
Folic acid prevents cleft lips and palate.
Cleft lips and palate are very common birth disorders; the cases of cleft lips and palate in Nigeria, for instance, are more than 100,000 cases per year. Cleft lips and palate are openings or slits in the roof of the mouth(palate) and the lips. It may lead to difficulty speaking and feeding. The treatment involves surgery, which leaves the face disfigured with scars, and speech therapy. Therefore, it is better to prevent it. This is done by ensuring a balanced diet during pregnancy which must include high strength folic acid. If there is a family history of cleft lips and palate, then not to worry, taking your vitamins especially folic acid as a pregnant woman would definitely reduce the risk of CLP by a great amount. Telling your doctor is also not a bad idea, so as to give other guidelines on how to prevent a repetition of the birth condition. But most importantly, you should incorporate vitamins into your diet, especially folic acid.
Folic acid prevents low birth weight and premature birth.
Low birth weight is referred to an average new-born weight of less than 2,500grams(2.5kg, 5 pounds, 8 ounces). Some low-birth weight babies are healthy, but others have serious health problems such as recurrent infections and delayed motor and social development. Furthermore, premature birth, which is characterized by a birth before 37 weeks of gestation is closely related to low-birth weight. These are very common in multiple pregnancy such as twins and triplets; so you should not hesitate to fortify your diet with folic acid if you are expecting multiple babies to prevent premature birth which leads to low birth weights that come with some health problems such as the ones mentioned above. Meanwhile, in single pregnancy, as much care should be taken. High strength folic acid is a necessity to prevent premature birth and low birth weight.These and many more bodily functions are what high strength folic acid does in the body of a pregnant woman. The advised dose is 600mcg per day from early pregnancy.
In conclusion, what is the importance of high strength folic acid after pregnancy? Now that the baby is out, why do I still need to take folic acid?
Well ,while breast feeding ,it is recommended that you actually take at least 500mg of folic acid everyday. This is because your baby gets folic acid from your milk and it still aids the baby’s health and development outside the womb. It should not exceed 12 weeks though. Folic acid can then be paused till you are ready to have another baby!