Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate and it can reduce certain birth defects of the brain and spinal cord by more than 70 percent. These birth defects are called neural tube defects (NTDs). NTDs happen when the neural tube (located along the back of an embryo that later develops into the spinal cord and brain) fails to close properly.
The most common NTD is spina bifida, where the spinal cord and the bones of the spine (vertebrae) don't fully form. This can cause the baby's legs to be paralyzed and they may later develop bladder and bowel control problems. The most serious NTD is called anencephaly, when the baby is born without part of its skull and brain, and eventually dies.
I know it's heartbreaking to think about — that's why it's so important to get your folic acid. If you are pregnant, or trying to conceive, take 600 mcg. If you are nursing, you'll need 500 mcg. It's a good idea for all women over 19 years old to get 400 mcg as well since folic acid is necessary for the production and maintenance of new cells.
You can take a supplement containing folic acid or eat fortified breakfast cereals and pastas that contain 100 percent of the RDI of folic acid. Foods like orange juice, asparagus, broccoli, beans, peas, and leafy green vegetables like spinach are great sources too.
Fit's Tips: Even if you are not actively trying to get pregnant but are still sexually active, it is a good idea to make sure you are getting enough folic acid just in case.