Folic acid is a vitamin- the man made form of Folate. Folate is a B vitamin which is required by your body to make cells, in particular, red blood cells. Folic acid is used up by the body as the body does not store it, so you need to regularly replenish your body with folic acid through your diet. When you become pregnant, your body uses extra folic acid to aid in the development of your baby, especially in the first few weeks of pregnancy.
Lack of folic acid during this time can lead to the development of birth defects such as spina bifida. Spina bifida is a condition which affects the spine causing the bones that protect the spinal chord in the spine to fail to develop properly. Other potential effects of folic acid deficiency during pregnancy include cleft palette, premature labor and heart defects. Defects usually develop within the first 18 to 30 days of pregnancy. This is why it is recommended that you take folic acid supplements as soon as you know you are pregnant and preferably months beforehand.
Although folic acid is found in certain green vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and green beans and certain cereals and wheat products are fortified with it, consumption varies between individuals, so the government recommends that you take supplements if you are planning on becoming pregnant and once you conceive.
400 micrograms or 0.4mg per day is recommended by physicians, however, if you are considered to be at a high risk of having a baby with spinal problems, a dose of 500 micrograms is recommended. You might be considered to be at risk if you are taking epilepsy medication, have previously given birth to a baby with spinal problems, have coeliac disease, sickle cell thallasemia or sickle cell anemia or are obese.
Folic acid is a naturally occuring B vitamin. Side effects are exceedingly rare, however, if you experience any sudden side effects such as swelling, itching or rashes, consult your doctor or pharmacist as soon as possible.
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