What is Folic Acid?
Folic acid, known as folate in its natural form, is one of the B-group of vitamins. Folate is found in small amounts in many foods. Good sources include broccoli, brussels sprouts, asparagus, peas, chickpeas and brown rice.
Other useful sources include fortified breakfast cereals, some bread and some fruit, such as oranges and bananas.
How much do I need?
Folate is a water-soluble vitamin, which means you need it in your diet every day because it can't be stored in the body.
Most people should be able to get the amount they need by eating a varied and balanced diet. Adults need 0.2 mg a day.
Where can I get folic acid from?
Folic acid is easily available in most supermarkets and pharmacies.
Thinking of starting a family?
If you are pregnant or thinking of having a baby you should take a daily 0.4 mg (400 microgram) folic acid supplement from the time you stop using contraception until the 12th week of pregnancy.This is to help prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
If you have already had a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect, a higher dose is recommended. Alternatively if there is a history of spina bifida in your family or you have epilepsy you may need to be on the higher dosage. All women with diabetes should take the prescribed 5mg of folic acid prior to conception and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Please speak to your GP for more advice.
What does it do?
Folate has a number of important functions. For example it:
- works together with vitamin B12 to form healthy red blood cells
- helps reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida in unborn babies
- A number of different studies over recent years have indicated significant variation in reduction of neural tube defects ranging from 20% to 80% as a result of taking folic acid, and this is generally because there are so many factors to take into consideration which would have an impact on the efficacy of folic acid supplementation. For example issues such as what sort of food you eat normally, whether you have had a previous pregnancy affected and or having a history of spina bifida in your family or indeed where you live may all have an impact on the results.
What happens if I take too much?
If you're not getting enough vitamin B12 - known as vitamin B12 deficiency - taking doses of folic acid higher than 1 mg can hide this fact.
An early symptom of vitamin B12 deficiency is anaemia. But taking large amounts of folic acid treats the anaemia without treating the B12 deficiency. If vitamin B12 deficiency isn't noticed, it can eventually lead to damage of the nervous system (neurological damage).
This is a concern particularly for older people, because as we get older it becomes more difficult to absorb vitamin B12.
Compulsory Fortification of Flour with Folic Acid Campaign
SSBA has welcomed scientists' recommendations for the compulsory fortification of white flour with folic acid and along with ASBAH, (Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus covering England and Ireland) are campaigning for UK residents to lobby their MPs to add their support to the campaign.
On 17 May 2007, the Food Standards Agency Board agreed unanimously that 'mandatory fortification' with folic acid should be introduced. This means that it would be compulsory to add folic acid to either bread or flour.
The purpose of mandatory fortification with folic acid is to reduce the number of neural tube defects. SACN estimated that there are between 700 and 900 pregnancies affected by neural tube defects each year.
The Board also wants to introduce controls on voluntary fortification (when manufacturers choose to add folic acid to foods) and advice for the public on supplements containing folic acid.
One Step closer to reducing Spina Bifida affected pregnancies in Scotland
The Association are delighted to hear that the Food Standards Agency have recently issued a letter to Harry Burns, Chief Medical Officer at the Scottish Government advising him that the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition have now reinforced its earlier advice recommending Mandatory Fortification of Flour with Folic Acid.
There is very clear evidence that folic acid reduces the number of pregnancies affected by neural tube defects of which spina bifida is the most severe. By fortifying flour at source with folic acid, all women of child bearing age will be protected.
It will now be up to Scottish Ministers to determine the way forward for the Scottish population. The Scottish Spina Bifida Association will continue to support the introduction of mandatory fortification which will significantly reduce the number of affected pregnancies each year in Scotland.
Andy Wynd, Chief Executive of the Scottish Spina Bifida Association said. “At long last there is a glimmer of hope for future generations of Scots. We have campaigned for many years to fortify flour with folic acid as the current tablet supplementation quite frankly has very limited impact.
Click HERE to read our response to the FSA consultation.
The Ponti Study - Prevention of Neural Tube Defects by Inositol
The UCL Institute of Child Health are inviting women who have experienced a pregnancy involving a neural tube defect (eg, spina bifida or anencephaly), and are now planning a further pregnancy, to take part in an important new research project.
Please click below to find out more The PONTI Study