Can folic acid reduce the risk of birth defects?

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Coleen  Boyle, PhD, MS
Public Health & General Preventive Medicine
Folic acid is a B vitamin. Our bodies use it to make new cells. Everyone needs folic acid. Folic acid is very important because it can help prevent some major birth defects of the baby's brain and spine (anencephaly and spina bifida). For folic acid to help prevent some major birth defects, a woman needs to start taking it at least one month before she becomes pregnant and while she is pregnant. Every woman needs folic acid every day, whether she’s planning to get pregnant or not, for the healthy new cells the body makes daily. Think about the skin, hair, and nails. These -- and other parts of the body -- make new cells each day.
Folic acid can reduce the risk of some birth defects, according to research. Folic acid is the manmade version of folate (vitamin B9), which is found in foods including leafy green vegetables, dried beans and citrus fruits.

Folic acid and folate help the body produce and maintain new cells, making it a vital nutrient for pregnancy. Taking folic acid or consuming folate-rich foods before conception and in the early months of pregnancy reduces your risk of having a baby with neural tube defects, which are problems with the formation of the baby's spine (spina bifida) and brain (anencephaly). In 1996, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published regulations requiring breads, cereals and other grain products to be fortified with folic acid. Eight years later, the incidence of neural tube defects in the U.S. had dropped by 25%. Talk to your doctor about your own needs for folic acid.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
If you have already had a pregnancy affected by a birth defect of the brain or spinal cord, ask your health care provider how much folic acid you need. Studies have shown that taking a larger dose of folic acid daily can reduce the risk of having another affected pregnancy. The larger dose needs to be taken at least 1 month before pregnancy and in the first trimester of pregnancy. The recommended dose in this case is 4 milligrams (4,000 micrograms).
YOU: Having a Baby: The Owner's Manual to a Happy and Healthy Pregnancy

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Kevin W. Windom, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrics & Gynecology)
Yes, folic acid can reduce the risk of birth defects. There is 1 mg of folic acid in all prenatal vitamins. Taking folic acid during pregnancy will help reduce neural tube defects. Neural tube defects are defects such as Spina bifida or other abnormalities of the brain or spinal cord. Although the risks of these types of defects are very low, numerous studies have shown that folic acid will decrease the risk of this to almost negligible. Folic acid is also important in helping with anemia. Folic acid along with iron are in all prenatal vitamins; and this will help keep your blood count stable and reduce anemia throughout your pregnancy.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.