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Women Need a Folic Acid Fix

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Over the six-year monitoring period, the researchers found that the number of women taking folic acid around the time of conception and during pregnancy increased dramatically. Similarly, the number of pregnancies affected by neural tube defects decreased significantly.

The March of Dimes recommends that a woman capable of becoming pregnant consume 400 micrograms of folic acid from foods or supplements daily.

According to expert Satty Gill Keswani, MD, folic acid can be found in some foods, such as green leafy vegetables, but most Americans eat too much frozen and processed foods to get enough of it from diet alone. She recommends that everyone eat more unprocessed vegetables, but that women who are or planning to become pregnant need the extra boost folic acid supplements provide. These women should see their doctor, who can perform blood tests that will tell just how much folic acid, as well as other vitamins and minerals, they need to take. Keswani is a reproductive endocrinologist at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, N.J., and director of the Livingston Fertility Center.

"Folic acid appears to be an important vitamin that can prevent a certain proportion of birth defects," says expert Alasdair G. W. Hunter, who studies pediatrics and practices as a medical geneticist. Although the major impact is on the neural tube defects, he adds, "it may decrease the rates of certain other malformations." He also says folic acid may play an important role in other aspects of health, such as heart disease, although this remains to be confirmed in studies. Hunter is medical director of the Eastern Ontario Genetics Program at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

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