Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Health Care and Folic Acid

Folic acid is a B vitamin, according to the National Institute for Health (NIH). It helps the body make healthy new cells. Everyone needs folic acid. For women who may get pregnant, it is really important. When a woman has enough folic acid in her body before and during pregnancy, it can prevent major birth defects of her baby's brain or spine. Foods with folic acid in them include leafy green vegetables, fruits, dried beans, peas and nuts. Enriched breads, cereals and other grain products also contain folic acid. If you don't get enough folic acid from the foods you eat, you can also take it as a dietary supplement.

According to the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), Folate (FOH-layt) is a vitamin found naturally in many foods. Folate helps your body make new cells. Folic (FOH-lik) acid is the man-made form of folate. It can be taken in vitamin pills. It is also added to many grain products. Folate helps keep your blood healthy. Not getting enough can cause a type of anemia (uh-NEE-mee-uh). Having anemia means you have fewer healthy red blood cells than normal. This makes it hard for your blood to carry enough oxygen throughout your body. Signs that you may have anemia:
--Feeling very tired
--Headache
--Sore mouth and tongue
--Pale skin

Folate can also help prevent some birth defects (problems with the baby), according to the HHS. Getting enough folate before and during pregnancy can help prevent certain defects of the baby’s spine and brain:
--Spina bifida (SPEYE-nuh BIF-ih-duh) is a problem with the spine. The nerves that control leg movements and other functions do not work. Children with spina bifida often have lifelong disabilities. They may also need many surgeries.
--Anencephaly (an-en-SEF-uh-lee) is when most or all of the brain does not develop. Babies with this problem die before or shortly after birth. Experts think that folate might also help prevent:
--Some cancers
--Alzheimer’s (AWLTS-heye-merz) disease
--Hearing loss as you age

According to the March of Dimes, folic acid works, but it only works if taken before and during the first few weeks of pregnancy, when the neural tube is developing into the brain and spinal cord. When the neural tube does not close properly, a baby is born with a very serious birth defect called a neural tube defect (NTD). About 3,000 pregnancies are affected by NTDs each year in the United States. If all women took adequate folic acid before conception and during early pregnancy, up to 70 percent of NTDs could be prevented. Folic acid has no known toxic level. If you ate a bowl of fully fortified cereal (400 micrograms), took a folic acid supplement (400 micrograms), and ate fortified foods and foods rich in folate, you would not get too much folic acid. Still, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that women consume no more than 1,000 micrograms of synthetic folic acid a day.

According to WomensHealth.gov, you can also eat foods that are high in folate, such as:
--Beans and lentils
--Peas (black-eyed peas, chickpeas, green peas)
--Juices (orange, tomato, grapefruit, pineapple)
--Fruits (oranges, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, avocado, papaya, raspberries)
--Soymilk
--Vegetables (green leafy vegetables such as spinach, lettuce, turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens, and Chinese cabbage; broccoli; Brussels sprouts; asparagus; artichokes; okra; corn; cauliflower; potato; beets; green onions; sweet red peppers)
--Nuts
--Sunflower seeds
--Peanuts and peanut butter
--Liver
--Giblets
You can also eat foods that have had folic acid added to them, such as:
--Breakfast cereals (Some have 100% of the Daily Value of folic acid in each serving)
--Breads
--Flours
--Pastas
--Cornmeals
--White rice
Food Label: Check the label on the package to see if the food has folic acid. The label will tell you how much folic acid is in each serving. Sometimes, the label will say folate instead of folic acid.

It's so important for all women of childbearing age to get enough folic acid — not just those who are planning to become pregnant, according to KidsHealth.org. Only 50% of pregnancies are planned, so any woman who could become pregnant should make sure she's getting enough folic acid. Doctors and scientists still aren't completely sure why folic acid has such a profound effect on the prevention of neural tube defects, but they do know that this vitamin is crucial in the development of DNA. As a result, folic acid plays a large role in cell growth and development, as well as tissue formation. During pregnancy, you require more of all of the essential nutrients than you did before you became pregnant. Although prenatal vitamins shouldn't replace a well-balanced diet, taking them can give your body — and, therefore, your baby — an added boost of vitamins and minerals. Some health care providers even recommend taking a folic acid supplement in addition to your regular prenatal vitamin. Talk to your doctor about your daily folic acid intake and ask whether he or she recommends a prescription supplement, an over-the-counter brand, or both. Also talk to your doctor if you've already had a pregnancy that was affected by a neural tube defect. He or she may recommend that you increase your daily intake of folic acid (even before getting pregnant) to lower your risk of having another occurrence.

According to Drugs.com, Folic acid should not be taken to treat undiagnosed anemia. Folic acid may hide the symptoms of pernicious anemia, leading to neurologic damage. Treatment of anemia during folic acid therapy may also require vitamin B12.This medication is in the FDA pregnancy category A. This means that it is safe to take folic acid during pregnancy. In fact, increased amounts of folic acid are recommended during pregnancy to reduce the risk that a folic acid deficiency will cause complications. Talk to your doctor about taking this medication during pregnancy. It is safe to use folic acid during breast-feeding. Talk to your doctor about taking this medication if you are breast-feeding a baby. Take this medication exactly as directed by your doctor. If you do not understand these instructions, ask your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist to explain them to you.Take each dose with a full glass of water. Folic acid is usually taken every day. Follow your doctor's instructions. Sometimes, it may be necessary to receive this medication by injection. Store this medication at room temperature away from moisture and heat.

Side effects from folic acid are not common, according to Drugs.com. Stop taking this medication and seek emergency medical treatment if you experience an allergic reaction (difficulty breathing; closing of your throat; swelling of your lips, tongue, or face; or hives). Continue taking this medication and talk to your doctor if you experience any of the following less serious side effects, which have occurred with large doses of this medication:
--Nausea,
--Decreased appetite,
--Abdominal distention,
--Flatulence,
--Bitter or bad taste,
--Insomnia, or
--Difficulty concentrating.
Side effects other than those listed here may also occur. Talk to your doctor about any side effect that seems unusual or that is especially bothersome.

Folic acid should be taken by everyone, but it is especially important for women who become pregnant to start taking it right away to prevent certain birth defects. Your primary care physician or OB-GYN specialist can help you understand more about the need for this supplement. For a healthy pregnancy and healthy babies, taking folic acid is a must. More information about the product can be found at your pharmacy if you do not have a doctor you are seeing now. Prevent any unnecessary risk by making wise decisions affecting your health regarding folic acid.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

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