Folic acid is an essential vitamin for healthy growth and development. It is critical in the formation of the neural tube which occurs very early in gestation. In fact, many times before a woman may even know she is pregnant.
Folic acid can be obtained through food (folate) and through supplementation. The form used in fortification of food and in supplements (folic acid) may be more bioavailable. The most recent DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) for folate reflects the increased bioavailability of synthetic over food folate. The recommendation states that women of childbearing age should consume 400 mcg of synthetic folic acid in addition to food folate. Fortification of grains with folic acid began in 1992. However, even though intakes have improved and rates of neural tube defects have decreased, there is still work to be done.
A major area for more education and intervention is with non-Hispanic black women. Prior to and post fortification, non-Hispanic black women have the lowest intake of folic acid. Mexican American women also have shown decreases in intake.
When awareness of folic acid benefits for pregnancy was assessed, it was found that 40.7% of black women, and 30.3% of American Indian women were not aware of the benefits. This is compared to 18% of white women. Health disparities such as these can be lessened through use of folic acid supplementation and an increase in fortified foods as well as those high in food folate. The educational message is a 3 pronged approach:
- Consume diet rich in food folate
- Consume fortified foods (grains)
- Consume folic acid supplements
This is not an expensive message. A typical folic acid supplement can be purchased for only a penny a day. Such a small behavior can have a far reaching effect on lowering the incidence of neural tube defects. Studies in recent years have also begun to uncover the relationship of folic acid intake to health across the lifespan, such as reduction in certain cancers and heart disease.
Folic Acid: It’s more than a fad, originally presented in September 2007 has been updated by Dr. Carol Boushey in the Department of Foods and Nutrition. To view the presentation, visit the Indiana Folic Acid Council webpage, www.ces.purdue.edu/infolicacid. For more information, contact Donna Vandergraff at email@example.com.