Importance of folic acid during pregnancy

Folic acid or folate is a B complex vitamin that has gained lot of importance over the years as it plays a vital role in the pregnancy outcome. Folic acid plays a very important role in cellular growth, cellular function and division. It is essential for the proper formation of hemoglobin. Folic acid helps in preventing heart disease, nervous disorders and certain types of cancer.

Folic acid is crucial during conception as it helps in the formation of brain, spinal cord and rest of the nervous system of the fetus. Before pregnancy is detected, folic acid would have played its role in fetal development. Hence, it is recommended to supplement women with folic acid from the time they plan for a baby.  If folic acid is deficient in the mother, it leads to higher chances of miscarriage due to improper growth of brain and spinal cord in the child.

Folic acid deficiency in pregnant women can lead to number of disturbances in the nervous system called neural tube defects or NTDs. These manifest as spina bifida and anencephaly after birth. Spina bifida is a condition where the spine of the baby is left open. This is because the neural tube does not close in the embryonic stage. This condition may result in paralysis of lower limbs, poor cognitive development and poor bladder control.

Anencephaly is another serious condition where the brain and skull of the child is under developed. Such children are born still or do not survive for more than few days after birth.

Folic acid deficiency also results in macrocytic anemia of pregnancy. This is because blood volume increases during pregnancy .At the same time, there is increased urinary folate excretion and decreased intestinal absorption of folate leading to its deficiency.

Folic acid deficiency, family history of NTDs or genetic predisposition to NTDs is the major cause of such a problem.

Normal adult women need 400 micrograms of folic acid per day. During pregnancy, the dosage needs to be increased to 600 micrograms per day. In case of family history of NTDs, it is recommended to take ten times more than the normal dose of folate.

Excess folic acid is flushed out of the body as it is water soluble. So, there is no danger of toxicity occurring because of excess intake of folic acid.Folic acid is naturally available in dark green leafy vegetables, soya, legumes, avocado, organ meats and foods fortified with folic acid like breakfast cereals and certain beverages.