More Women Take Vitamins With Folic Acid

Folic Acid Is Recommended for Every Woman of Childbearing Age

From the WebMD Archives

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.


Daily Dose

Since 1992, the U.S. government has recommended that women of childbearing age consume 400 micrograms of folic acid per day.

The advice applies to all women, whether or not they're planning to get pregnant.

Women must take folic acid before becoming pregnant to help prevent neural tube defects.

Since many pregnancies are unplanned, it's best to take folic acid every day, just in case.

Dieting Hazards

To help women get enough folic acid, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has, for years, ordered that grain-based products, such as bread and pasta, be fortified with folic acid.

But when people cut back on carbohydrates, they often skip foods enriched with folic acid.

It's a common problem.

The March of Dimes survey showed that 24% of American women aged 18-45 dieted during the previous six months. Nearly half followed a low-carb diet.

"These women have a particular need to supplement their diets with 400 micrograms of folic acid daily because many of the enriched and fortified foods usually consumed are limited in low-carbohydrate diets," says the CDC.

Some dieters are getting the message.

In the March of Dimes survey, 49% of low-carb dieters said they took a daily multivitamin with folic acid, compared with 40% of on a diet that was not low carb.

Thirty-nine percent of women who were not on a diet also reported taking folic acid.

"Although folic acid now has a high profile in this country, we can't be complacent in our efforts to prevent disabling or fatal NTDs from occurring," says Jennifer Howse, PhD, president of the March of Dimes, in a news release.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on September 16, 2004


SOURCES: March of Dimes. CDC. News release, March of Dimes.

© 2004 WebMD, Inc. All rights Reserved.