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Folic Acid Prevents Birth Defects

January is birth defects prevention awareness month:  are you aware that the most important steps a woman can take to preventing birth defects are actually before she's pregnant?  These are lifestyle changes to make sure that the mother is as healthy as possible:  step one is to stop smoking and stop drinking before conception.

We've know for years that pregnant women benefit by taking prenatal vitamins:  now we also know that all women planning to become pregnant should take folic acid, 400 micrograms per day before and during pregnancy.  This has been shown to greatly reduce the risk of neural tube birth defects by as much as 65%!  In addition, women who take folic acid may reduce their risk of a preterm birth by 50%.  This dose of folic acid is contained in most prenatal vitamins and now in most daily multivitamin supplements, but check the labels to be sure.  You can get folic acid from your diet in dark, green vegetables and in orange juice, but it's very difficult to get 400 mcg that way.

Folic acid is most well known for its ability to reduce birth defects when taken by women before and during pregnancy, but what about its effect on men?  Folic acid supplementation by expectant fathers has no benefit on babies, but it can benefit men:  it has been shown to suppress homocysteine, is a blood factor linked to higher rates of heart disease, stroke, depression, and Alzheimer's disease.  The standard daily recommendation for men and women is the same, 400 micrograms per day.

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Created: 1/24/2001  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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