The US Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of national medical experts, released its final recommendations on folic acid supplements for the prevention of birth defects. The group looked at 24 studies on the benefits and potential harms of folic acid supplementation and concluded that theyâre safe and effective.
Folic acid has repeatedly been shown to prevent improper brain and spinal chord development, called neural tube defects. Many birth defects happen in the first few weeks of pregnancy, which is why doctors recommend women start taking a daily supplement of 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid.
The most important times for women to take the supplements are a month before becoming pregnant and throughout the first three months of pregnancy, the task force concludes.
Folic acid is very safe, so women could take the pills for longer if they desired. Most defects seem to happen early in pregnancy, before a woman may even know sheâs pregnant. Given that only half of pregnancies are planned, it makes sense for any woman who might become pregnant to be taking the supplements.
Women can get folate naturally from their diets, if they eat foods high in the nutrient, like dark green leafy vegetables, legumes and oranges. But around 75 per cent of women do not get the recommended daily amount of folate from their diet alone.
Women who want to take daily folate supplementation can either get it through folate-specific pills or in a multi-vitamin, as long as it has the recommended 400 to 800 microgram dosage.
Dr Rosmond Adams is a medical doctor and a public health specialist. He may be emailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org