Folic acid is a water-soluble B Vitamin and member of the B Complex. Folic acid intake is important for pregnant women and helps promote heart health. Folic acid helps maintain healthy levels of homocysteine by helping convert homocysteine into methionine. In addition, it plays a significant role in the health of red blood cells, and helps support a healthy nervous system.
Folic acid is a B vitamin and supplementation recommended to women of child-bearing age. A daily intake of 400 μg folic acid for at least one month before and up to three months after conception can increase maternal folate status1. 1.Supplemental folic acid intake increases maternal folate status. Low maternal folate status is a risk factor in the development of neural tube defects in the developing foetus.
Folic Acid carries out a variety of functions in the human body from assisting in the formation of nucleic acid, essential for growth and reproduction, to stimulating the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach.
Despite the wide occurrence of Folic Acid in food, it is still the most common vitamin deficiency in the world. In addition to a dietary lack, alcohol and prescription drugs, like oestrogens, impair Folic Acid metabolism. In Folic Acid deficiency all parts of the body are affected, particularly the rapidly dividing cells like red blood cells and cells of the gastrointestinal and genital tract. This results in retarded growth, diarrhoea, anaemia, gingivitis, and abnormal smears in women. Macrocytic anaemia as a result of folic acid deficiency is characterised by enlarged red blood cells. Other symptoms include depression, insomnia, irritability, forgetfulness, loss of appetite, fatigue and shortness of breath.
Since Folic Acid is important to the division of cells in the body, it is even more essential during times of growth, such as pregnancy where rapid cell multiplication takes place. If there is a deficiency of folic acid at this time, the result is decreased nucleic acid synthesis (for RNA and DNA) and interrupted cell division. Folic acid is essential for the development of the foetal spinal cord and nervous system.
During the first trimester of pregnancy, one of the biggest fears for a parent comes from the threat of congenital defects, such as spina bifida (incomplete closure of the spine), hydrocephaly and impaired brain development.