Raving About Folic Acid

Importance of Folic Acid

Folic Acid.  Is it (A) a vitamin (B) a mineral (C) a substance found in snake venom or (D) a treatment for baldness? True or false?  Women only need to take folic acid if they’re pregnant? The answers are A.  Folic acid is one of the B Vitamins. And False! All women need to take folic acid whether they’re pregnant or not.  Just because they’re not planning on having a baby, doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

Folic Acid.  The Low Down

So what is folic acid and what does it do exactly?  Folic acid is most commonly associated with pregnancy both in the 12 weeks prior to conception and those after.

Taking 400 micrograms daily can reduce the risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect (NTD) such as spina bifida (spinal cord) or anencephaly (brain defect).

Why You Should Give a Sweet FA about Folic Acid

Spina bifida is the most common form of (NTD) in Ireland.  Children with spina bifida can have varying degrees of paralysis of their lower limbs.  Some are confined to a wheelchair. Other symptoms include malformations, latex allergies, and bowel and bladder incontinence.  70% of these cases could be prevented by taking folic acid. In some cases there are other reasons why NTD’s occur.


As a baby’s brain and spine form very early on in pregnancy – in the first 4 weeks – and as it is believed that almost half of all pregnancies are unplanned it’s important that folic acid is taken every day.

All babies are at risk of neural tube defects regardless of the mother’s age.  It doesn’t matter if there are older, healthy children, nor does the mother’s own health make a difference.

However, there is a higher risk if there is already a baby with a NTD.  Family history is also important e.g. a sister or cousin with a child with a NTD. 

The Bottom Line

Folic acid is naturally present in dark green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits and juices and these days folic acid is added to food stuffs such as bread, breakfast cereals, rice and pasta.  

However, the body only absorbs some of this naturally occurring vitamin and what’s more, it can be destroyed during the cooking process.

It is important to keep in mind that folic acid should be taken as an individual supplement and not one that is part of a multi-vitamin.  This ensures you get the correct dose of 400 micrograms a day.


Folic acid supplements are one of the cheapest supplements you can take yet probably one of the most important.  If you are worried about forgetting to take it, it’s a good idea to leave your pack beside your toothbrush, your coffee mug or car keys.  Chances are you will be using at least one of these items at the same time every day.  Job done!

If you do discover an unexpected little blue (or is it pink!) line on a pregnancy test and you haven’t been taking folic acid, first of all, congratulations. Secondly, try not to worry too much.  Stress during a pregnancy isn’t recommended either.  Start taking a supplement immediately and have a chat with your GP who will ease any concerns you may have.

*Folic Acid Quiz questions taken from www.safefood.eu