Lack of Folic Acid (B9) and Birth Defects

One of the first advices given for prenatal care is addition of folic acid in the mother’s diet. Folic acid plays an important part in reducing the risk of some types of birth defects in the baby and thus is always recommended.

Folic acid, also known as folate or folacin or B9, is one of the B groups of vitamins. It helps make DNA (genetic material) and also helps in the production of red blood cells, norepinephrine and serotonin (chemical components of the nervous system) in the human body.

Everybody needs some amount of folic acid in their diet, but it is absolutely essential for pregnant women. Green leafy vegetables especially leafy vegetables like kale and spinach, dried beans, fruits, nuts, peas, fresh orange juice are all good sources of folic acid.

Like mentioned earlier, folic acid is recommended to prevent serious neural tube defects in the baby. The most common neural tube defects which folic acid can prevent are:

1) Spina bifida- It is a defect wherein there is an incomplete closure of the spinal column and spinal cord. The spinal cord can be surgically closed after birth, but even then that part of the spinal cord cannot perform its normal function. Statistics show that the occurrence of spina bifida has shown a reduction of 75% after the inclusion of folic acid in the mother’s diet. 

2) Anencephaly: It is a case of acute underdevelopment of the brain. It is a cephalic disorder wherein the end of the neural tube fails to close giving way to absence of major portions of the brain, scalp and skull. The child in this case, if born, which doesn’t happen often, dies within few hours or days of his birth.

3) Encephalocele: This is a condition where brain tissue projects out of the skin from an opening in the skull. These sac-like projections occur due to improper closure of the neural tube. Surgery can be done after the birth, depending on the size of the projections, but success rate is minimal.

These defects occur within the first 28 days of pregnancy, sometimes before the female even knows that she is pregnant. This makes it important of every female at the age of getting pregnant or a female planning to get pregnant to have folic acid supplements in her diet.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in fact, recommends, every woman of child-bearing age or planning a pregnancy to include about 400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) of folic acid in her daily diet. The same is recommended to all women for at least the first 3 months of their pregnancy. Usually the amount of folic acid through cereals and vegetables is not enough and needs to be complemented with folic acid containing vitamin supplements.

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