Folate and falling pregnant
Posted on: September 20, 2021
Aren’t we fortunate to be journeying through life in the 21st century?! Never have women enjoyed the freedom of choice as we do now. We can take full control of our lives by making smart, informed decisions. This includes choosing if we want to start a family and, if we do, having the choice to plan the pregnancy so our bodies are well prepared for a healthy baby. This is where the “F word” comes in…
What’s the deal with the F word?
Folate. You may have heard of it. If you have, you’d know how important folate or folic acid is for a healthy body. If you haven’t, grab a cuppa and read on. We’ll tell you why this essential vitamin1 known as Vitamin B9 is a must-have, especially if you are planning to fall pregnant2.
There is loads of scientific research on the health benefits of folate. In a nutshell, your body needs folate to carry out many important functions including helping us make DNA1 and keeping our hearts and brains healthy.3, 4 The demand for folate increases when you are having a baby1, especially early in the pregnancy, so it’s critical that expectant mothers are folate fortified.
The thing is, our bodies can’t make folate1. We must either consistently eat foods rich in folate or we need to take folate supplements1.
Healthy body = healthy baby
While folate is important for the health of all women5 regardless of whether you plan to have children or not, it is particularly important for pregnant women. This is because the vitamin plays a crucial role in ensuring the baby grows and develops healthily2.
Experts have found that if expectant mothers do not have sufficient levels of folate, their babies are at greater risk of being born with serious brain and spine defects6. This is especially true if there is a folate deficiency early in the pregnancy, which is why experts recommend that women take folate supplements at least a month before falling pregnant and should continue taking them throughout the first two to three months of the pregnancy6. Set aside time at your next consult to speak to your doctor about boosting your folate levels.
Don’t know you’re pregnant?
But what happens if you don’t know you are pregnant and only find out weeks after conception? If you consider that each year, around 41% of pregnancies worldwide are unplanned7A chances are this affects you or someone you know. As folate is a Superhero in early pregnancy, it is vital that you always have the recommended amount of folate daily6. This way, if you become pregnant and only find out later, your baby’s development will not be affected by the lack of folate. Your doctor can explain how to supplement your folic acid intake if you are on the contraceptive Pill.
Can you eat yourself to healthy levels of folate?
The answer is yes and no. Yes, because adding leafy green veggies such as spinach, kale, cabbage, watercress and Romaine lettuce to your diet as well as legumes like beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas, egg yolks, liver and certain types of citrus fruits8, 5 helps boost folate levels. These are Folate Superfoods!
No, because all these natural folate-rich foods can lose their effectiveness during the cooking process9. Bear in mind too, that unless you eat quite a lot of these foods every day, you will most likely need folate supplements to get the recommended daily dose6, 8.
Not just good for baby, but for mum (and dad) too!
While a healthy body helps with a healthy pregnancy, the developing baby isn’t the only one to reap the benefits of folate. Researchers say the mother too can suffer ill health that includes anaemia and peripheral neuropathy if she has a folate deficiency1. Folate packs a healthy punch for all adults (men and women), helping maintain healthy heart and brain function, and playing a significant role in the functioning of the nervous system3, 4. Studies have shown that folate deficiency in elderly people contributes to ageing brain processes3. It also increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia3.
So, at your next visit, pick your doctor's brain about the positive effects of folate and how you can supplement your daily intake to enjoy the full health benefits of this essential vitamin. Your body will thank you – and if you are pregnant or are planning a pregnancy, your baby will thank you too!
References: 1. Greenberg JA, Bell SJ, Guan Y, Yu YH. Folic acid supplementation and pregnancy: more than just neural tube defect prevention. Rev Obstet Gynecol 2011;4(2):53-54. 2. McDowell MA, Lacher DA, Pfeiffer CM, Mulinare J, Picciano MF, Rader JI, et al. Blood folate levels: The latest NHANES results. NCHS data briefs, no 6. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2008:1 3. Reynolds EH. Folic acid, ageing, depression and dementia. BMJ 2002;324:1512 4. EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA). Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to folate and blood formation (ID 79), homocysteine metabolism (ID 80), energy-yielding metabolism (ID 90), function of the immune system (ID 91), function of blood vessels (ID 94, 175, 192), cell division (ID 193), and maternal tissue growth during pregnancy (ID 2882) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/20061. EFSA Journal 2009;7(9):1213.
5: de Benoist B. WHO: Conclusions of a WHO Technical Consultation on folate and vitamin B12 deficiencies. Food Nutr Bull 2008;29(2 Suppl):S238. 6: The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). Folic acid for the prevention of neural tube defects: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. JAMA. 2017;317(2):183-186.doi:10.1001/jama.2016.19438 7: Bayer AG. Jubilee Youth Report. Youth and contraception report: a survey of global youth perceptions of sex and contraception. Berlin (DE): Bayer AG; 2017:4-8 8: Wilson RD, et al. Preconceptional vitamin/folic acid supplementation 2007: the use of folic acid in combination with a multivitamin supplement for the prevention of neural tube defects and other congenital anomalies. J Obstet Gynaecol Can 2007;29(12):1004 9: McNulty H, Scott JM. Intake and status of folate and related B-vitamins: considerations and challenges in achieving optimal status. Br J Nutr 2008;99(Suppl 3):S48.