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8
OCT

The Follies of Forgoing Folic Acid

Filed Under: Uncategorized at 4:44 pm | By: Susan Coyle, Senior Editor
Spina Bifida Drawing

A friend once stood over a pretzel, shortly after giving up bread products, and thought, “It’s only slightly stepped on.” She itched to pick up the forgotten treat but somehow managed not to. She avoided the pretzel that day and carbs in general for the next several months. She was one of many who has and continues to forsake all things carbohydrate in the name of weight loss. The diet itself, high in meat, eggs and nuts, has been the source of much contention over the years. Is it legitimately healthy to cut out an entire food group? Are there benefits to all that meat? Do you cry at night thinking about pasta? The answers vary, but one thing is for sure: For women, cutting out carbs can also mean cutting out folic acid and that is something they want to avoid.

Folic acid is a B vitamin proven to help prevent birth defects, specifically neural tube defects.  In 1998, the government mandated folate fortification. The hope was that by fortifying cereals, breads and other baked goods with folic acid, the number of women with low blood folate levels would decrease. And, it has. Since 1994, the percentage of women with low levels has dropped from 21 to less than one. Pumping our cereals and breads with the vitamin has led to great success. However, the steady decline hit a speed bump in 2003/2004. Researchers attribute the slight rise to the low-carb craze.  Women who are steadfastly avoiding carbohydrates are missing out on the benefits of folate fortification and thus increasing the likelihood of having a child with a birth defect.

No big deal, though, right? You aren’t pregnant, so not getting folic acid isn’t too much of a concern. But, are you thinking about getting pregnant? Starting folic acid after you find out you’re expecting can be too late. Most neural tube defects occur in the very first weeks of pregnancy, when women are not yet aware.  Therefore, it’s vital that all women make sure they get the folic acid they need. If you aren’t on a low-carb diet, that doesn’t involve anything more than having a fortified cereal in the morning. The CDC has a list of products that contain the full daily amount, making your search even easier.  If you are on the low-carb diet, take a vitamin. There are folic acid vitamins, but many multivitamins also have all that you need. So, it’s up to you. If you’re missing more than folic acid, go for the multi. Just make sure that you get the vitamin; it will give you (and your baby) a healthier future.

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