Catrinel Stanciu | 4/21/2005 9:20:22 PM
Folate or folic acid is a B vitamin found in some foods and vitamin supplements. This vitamin can help prevent up to 70 percent of birth defects of baby’s brain and spine, according to LSU AgCenter food and nutrition expert Catrinel Stanciu.
A baby’s brain and spine form during the first month of pregnancy, before a woman even knows she’s pregnant! If mother’s body doesn’t have enough folic acid by the time she becomes pregnant, the baby could be born with a neural tube defect, a serious injury to the brain and spine.
January is the Birth Defects Prevention month, so this is a good time to educate women on the importance of folic acid and also on the consequences of not getting enough folic acid, Stanciu says.
A common type of birth defect is spina bifida, which can cause paralysis of lower body with no control of bowel or bladder and learning disabilities. The most serious type of birth defect is anencephaly, which means that baby’s brain and skull are not fully developed and the baby will die.
According to the March of Dimes, which raises money for the prevention of birth defects, the leading cause of infant mortality in the past 20 years was birth defects. In Louisiana, in 2001, birth defects accounted for one in five infant deaths. In the United States, about 150,000 babies are born with neural tube defects every year.
Stanciu recommends that all women who may become pregnant take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day prior to and during the early weeks of pregnancy. The nutrition expert says there are two ways to get your folic acid: from foods or from vitamin pills.
Foods rich in folate include dark green vegetables (lettuce, broccoli and spinach), peanuts, corn and dried beans, orange juice and cantaloupe. Some foods are enriched with folic acid, such as cereals, oatmeal, pasta and bread. Enriched means that folic acid has been added to the foods. Read the nutrition label on your breakfast cereal. Some have 400 micrograms folic acid per serving, exactly what you need for the whole day.
"The easiest way to get your folic acid is to take a vitamin pill with 400 micrograms of folic acid every day," Stanciu says. According to a March of Dimes survey conducted in 2000, 31 percent of non-pregnant women take a multivitamin pill containing folic acid every day. Women least likely to take a multivitamin pill are those ages 18-24, women who have not attended college, and women with an annual household income of less than $25,000.
Folic acid is not only important for the health of the baby, but for mother, too, Stanciu points out, explaining that it may protect against cancer and heart disease.
For information on related family and consumer topics, visit the FCS Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com/Inst/
Extension/Departments/fcs/. For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.