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Women's Health

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More Women Take Vitamins With Folic Acid

Folic Acid Is Recommended for Every Woman of Childbearing Age
WebMD Health News

Sept. 16, 2004 -- Taking a multivitamin containing folic acid is a daily routine for more young women than ever before.

Forty percent of American women aged 18-45 take a daily multivitamin containing folic acid, according to the March of Dimes.

That's a record high since the March of Dimes started tracking folic acid supplementation in 1995.

This year's numbers are eight percentage points higher than 2003 and a big improvement since 1995, when only 28% of American women took a daily multivitamin containing folic acid.

The results are based on a Gallup Organization poll for the March of Dimes. The phone survey, conducted this spring, included more than 2,000 women aged 18-45.

Folic Acid's Importance

Folic acid and folate are B-vitamin complexes. Folic acid is rarely found in foods and must be supplemented as a vitamin. Green leafy vegetables (foliage) are rich sources of folate and provide the basis for its name. Citrus fruit juices, legumes, and fortified cereals are also excellent sources of folate. For example:

Spinach (cooked) 1/2 cup 131 micrograms
Asparagus (cooked) 1/2 cup (~ 6 spears) 131 micrograms
Lentils (cooked) 1/2 cup 179 micrograms
Garbanzo beans (cooked) 1/2 cup 141 micrograms

The vitamin has an important role in cell metabolism -- helping cells divide and grow. Certain conditions increase the body's need for the folic acid, such as pregnancy. A deficiency of the vitamin may not lead to immediate and obvious symptoms.

During the initial stages of pregnancy there is an extremely rapid growth of cells of a fetus. When the vitamin is taken before conception, it reduces the occurrence of neural tube defects by 50%-70%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which provided a grant for the March of Dimes survey.

Neural tube defects are serious birth defects of the brain and spine, affecting about 3,000 U.S. pregnancies per year, says the CDC. The conditions can be devastating and even fatal.

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