What is folic acid?
Folic acid is one of the most important B vitamins, as it is involved in protein synthesis and cell formation. In addition, it has been known for a few years that its lack during pregnancy can cause various complications such as anemia, intrauterine growth retardation, prematurity and, above all, neurological malformations in the fetus.
Why take folic acid in pregnancy?
Several studies have shown that taking folic acid at least in the 3 months prior to conception ensures the necessary reserves in the mother’s organism to reduce, by up to 72%, the chances of the fetus suffering from a problem related to the closure of the neural tube during the first weeks of pregnancy.
The neural tube is the primitive structure that gives rise to the nervous system of the fetus and, if it does not close properly, can cause various malformations, mainly anencephaly (absence of brain) and spina bifida (serious disease that causes hydrocephalus, vision problems and of memory, alterations in the musculoskeletal system, etc.), although it is also related to cleft palate or lip.
Therefore, it is essential that you include in your diet the necessary amounts of folic acid from the months prior to conception since you never know when this will occur and the closure of the neural tube occurs in the first weeks of gestation.
How much folic acid should be taken during pregnancy?
Folic acid is found naturally in vegetables, especially those with green leaves such as chard, spinach, canons, etc. Also in some fruits, legumes, seeds or enriched cereals.
However, during conception, the woman should take 400 µg daily, and these amounts are not easy to satisfy just with the diet. In addition, folic acid is sensitive to light and heat, so you can lose up to 40% of the amounts provided by food if it is cooked for a long time.
Therefore, it is advisable to take a vitamin supplement of folic acid from the months prior to seeking pregnancy. And, once this is achieved, it must be taken, at least, until week 12, when the organogenesis of the fetus ends, that is, the formation of the main organs.
In some cases, in addition, it will be necessary to take more, such as in twin pregnancies, second gestations, if the woman smokes or drinks alcohol, if she takes certain medications (such as anticonvulsants), if she had a previous pregnancy with neural tube defects, if It is insulin-dependent or if your diet is poor in fruits and vegetables. In these cases, the dose should be increased to 4 mg/day.
This vitamin is absorbed by the small intestine and distributed from there to all tissues, including those of the fetus.
Does folic acid have side effects?
Folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin, which means that it does not accumulate in the body and that its excess is expelled through the urine, so it is complicated for an overdose or toxicity due to high doses. However, it is advised not to take more than 1,000 mg per day, since doses above this could cause a problem of absorption of vitamin B12, which is also essential for our health.
As for possible side effects, it hardly causes adverse reactions. Rarely, mild side effects such as redness or skin rash, itching, nausea, flatulence, breathing problems or bloating have been found.
However, it should be borne in mind that most of these symptoms are common in pregnancy, so it is difficult to check if they are caused by the intake of folic acid or not.
Also, if you are taking folic acid along with other vitamins, such as iron, other side effects caused by the rest of the components, such as metallic taste in the mouth, may appear.
In summary, folic acid is completely safe during pregnancy and essential to avoid serious abnormalities in the neural tube of the fetus, as well as other complications such as anemia (very common in these months) or premature delivery. Therefore, you should start taking a vitamin supplement three months before conception and continue throughout the pregnancy or at least until week 12 or when your doctor tells you.