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New Information on the Benefits of Folic Acid

Folic acid may prevent premature births. Has anyone ever told you “make sure you’re taking folic acid!”? If you’re a woman, you may have heard this from your doctor, mother, co-worker, or on the news . . . especially if you are planning at some point in your life to get pregnant. But is it really that important? 

It’s no lie – folic acid is a vital part of your diet, even more so if you’re looking to conceive. It has long been celebrated for its part in preventing birth defects, especially defects of your baby’s brain and spine. But now there’s even one more reason to get enough: recent research suggests that folic acid may also help prevent premature births.

Take a look at the details below . . .

The study

A team of both U.S. and Irish researchers led the study in which almost 40,000 women (38,033 to be exact) participated. They found that women who took folic acid supplements for a year or longer before conception had a 70 percent decreased risk of preterm birth between 20 and 28 weeks of gestation. And, the risk of delivering during weeks 28 through 32 was decreased by 50 percent. For clarification – a premature birth is one that occurs before 37 weeks’ gestation, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“There have been all sorts of protocols, lifestyle interventions and medications tested, and nothing has made a difference in preterm births, so this is a really exciting study,” said Dr. Katharine Wenstrom, president of the Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

Wenstrom went on to say that it’s likely that folic acid is regulating certain genes that malfunction to cause early labor. “Now that we know that folic acid makes a huge difference, researchers can look at the different reactions that folic acid causes and see which might be related to preterm labor,” she said.

This discovery is sure to get more attention over the next few years, but comes at an important time in the research on premature births. Improved knowledge and medical technology have made survival of preterm infants much more likely – of babies born at 28 weeks or after, 90 percent are expected to survive, according to the NIH. However, the earlier a baby is delivered, the greater the risk of life-threatening complications including bleeding in the brain, infection, delayed growth and intestinal problems. So this development brings hope to the future of fewer premature births.
How much folic acid should you be getting?

If you’re trying to get pregnant – or even thinking about it, the recommended amount of folic acid you should get daily is 400 micrograms. And, if you become pregnant you should continue to incorporate this amount of folic acid into your daily diet. These recommendations come from a variety of respected and well-known sources, such as the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), the U.S. Public Health Service and the March of Dimes.

While many cereals and grain products are fortified with folic acid, they may not contain the full recommended amount. So make sure in addition to eating foods with folic acid you take a vitamin or folic acid supplement every day. Folic acid pills and most multi-vitamins sold in the U.S. have 100 percent of the daily value of folic acid and come in all sorts of forms, including chewable chocolate or fruit flavors, liquids and pills. Double-check the label to ensure whichever method you choose contains the full 100 percent.

Is folic acid just for women?

While the focus seems to be on women getting enough folic acid, men can benefit from it as well! According to Wenstrom, both males and females should take a daily folic acid supplement. “Folic acid influences so many things. It reduces the risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease, and it prevents birth defects,” she said. “It’s a simple preventative measure for a variety of severe problems.”

If you’re not used to taking a daily vitamin or supplement, it’s easy to get into the habit. And with all the health benefits folic acid offers – whether you’re a man or a woman - why wouldn’t you get started with this important vitamin today?

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September 24, 2008
I just read this interesting article about a study that suggests too much Folic Acid might be linked to increased chance of asthma in children. /article?AID=/20080922/LIFE04/809220306