You’ve probably heard that folic acid is an important nutrient during pregnancy. However, there’s a misconception around this. And it’s an important one: What you really want is bioactive folate (aka Vitamin B-9). Folic acid is actually a synthetic form of folate and the body has difficulty converting it into the folate needed during pregnancy. Folate is essential during the first several weeks for the development of genetic material, as well as throughout a baby’s growth in the womb.
Low folate levels in pregnant women have been linked to birth abnormalities, such as neural tube defects (NTD), which affect the brain and spinal cord, and congenital heart conditions. While not every type of NTD is linked with low-folate levels (some have other biological causes), the majority can be prevented by taking 400 mcg of folate daily.
The best way to acquire folate is through a diet rich in whole foods, including asparagus, avocados, Brussels sprouts, and leafy greens such as spinach and lettuce. It’s not ideal to rely on foods labeled as being “fortified with folic acid.” A dietary supplement (typically 400 mcg) may be necessary in order to ensure sufficient levels during pregnancy. Some women have a MTHFR genetic mutation which requires a special form of folate called 5-Methyl-tetrahydrofolate. If you have questions about the role of or form of folate you need during pregnancy, consult your naturopathic doctor or holistic physician for guidance.
- Czeizel, Andrew E., et al. “Folate deficiency and folic acid supplementation: the prevention of neural-tube defects and congenital heart defects.” Nutrients 5:1, 4760-75. (21 Nov. 2013) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3847759/
- CDC.com “NTDs, Folic Acid and Folate.” Accessed 12 July 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/faqs/faqs-general-info.html