WHAT IS FOLIC ACID?
Folic acid is a B9 vitamin needed for proper cell growth and can be found in many multivitamins, as well as many food sources, such as dried beans and peas, and dark green vegetables. Since 1998, the Food and Drug Administration has required the addition of folic acid to enriched food in order to increase the amount of folic acid in our diets.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT
It is important for all women of child-bearing age to take this recommended daily dosage of folic acid even if they are not planning pregnancy because folic acid is needed in the first weeks of pregnancy, even before a woman may know she’s pregnant. About 50% of all pregnancies are unplanned, any woman who could potentially become pregnant should be taking folic acid daily. Once a woman is pregnant, she should continue to take at least 400 micrograms or 0.4 milligrams of folic acid during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Folic acid can help prevent birth defects known as neural tube defects, including spina bifida occulta, anencephaly. However, it’s difficult to get the amount of folate recommended for a healthy pregnancy from food alone, which is why it’s important to take a folic acid supplement.
Some women may need more folic acid. If a woman has given birth to a child with a neural tube defect, she is at higher risk of having another child with a similar defect. It is recommended that these women should take a higher dose of folic acid (4 milligrams or 4000 micrograms) daily. Women with a family history of neural tube defects are also advised to take an increased dose of folic acid. In addition, women who take certain medications, like mood stabilizers or antiepileptic drugs, are also advised to take increased doses of folic acid while planning pregnancy and throughout pregnancy.
In addition, using folic acid for at least one month before conception has been associated with decreased risk for autism spectrum disorders. In contrast, starting folic acid after conception may not provide the expected benefit.
NEURAL TUBE DEFECTS
According to Wikipedia Neural tube defects (NTDs) are a group of birth defect in which an opening in the spine or cranium remains from early in human development. In the third week of pregnancy called gastrulation, specialized cells on the dorsal side of the embryo begin to change shape and form the neural tube. When the neural tube does not close completely, an NTD develops.
Examples of neural tube defects are: spina bifida which affects the spine, anencephaly which results in little to no brain, encephalocele which affects the skull, and iniencephaly which results in severe neck problems.
Spina bifida is further divided into two subclasses, spina bifida cystica and spina bifida occulta.
- Spina bifida cystica includes meningocele and myelomeningocele.
- Meningocele is characterized by herniation of the meninges, but not the spinal cord, through the opening in the spinal canal.
- Myelomeningocele involves herniation of the meninges as well as the spinal cord through the opening.
- Spina bifida occulta, here the meninges do not herniate through the opening in the spinal canal. The most frequently seen form of spina bifida occulta is when parts of the bones of the spine, called the spinous process, and the neural arch appear abnormal on a radiogram, without involvement of the spinal cord and spinal nerves.
Anencephaly is a serious neural tube defect that occurs when the anterior-most end of the neural tube fails to close, usually during the 23rd and 25th days of pregnancy. This results in an absence of a major portion of the brain and skull. Infants born with this condition lack the main part of the forebrain and are usually blind, deaf and display major craniofacial anomalies. The lack of a functioning cerebrum will prevent the infant from even gaining consciousness. Infants are either stillborn or usually die within a few hours or days after birth.
Iniencephaly is a rare neural tube defect that results in extreme bending of the head to the spine. The diagnosis can usually be made on antenatal ultrasound scanning, but if not will undoubtedly be made immediately after birth because the head is bent backwards and the face looks upwards. Usually the neck is absent. The skin of the face connects directly to the chest and the scalp connects to the upper back. Individuals with iniencephaly generally die within a few hours after birth.