Giving birth to a sick child is a nightmare of every woman. Spina bifida is a neural tube defect that is caused by incomplete closing of the embryonic neural tube (1). Anencephaly is another neural tube defect where the cephalic (head) end of the neural tube fails to close (here is the link to Wikipedia article about anencephaly, but if you are sensitive you might choose not to go there). Neural tube defects can leave an infant with brain damage and paralysis. It is absolutely heart-breaking!
Fortunately women can dramatically slash the odds of these deformities by simply getting only 0.4 milligrams a day of folic acid, also known as vitamin B9). Tolerable upper intake for women over 19 is 1,000 micrograms (you can see details here).
This was confirmed by an international eight-year study of 1,817 women who had previously given birth to babies with neural tube defects. The women who took only 0.4mg of folic acid a day cut their odds of having another infant with such deformities by 72 percent! You can find a full description of this study here.
Statistically most of the neural tube deformities are first-time occurrences and while it’s true that women who already had a child with such deformities are more likely to have another, you still could be at risk. Keep your future baby safe by getting enough folic acid BEFORE you get pregnant. There will be no time to act afterward, because the defects are thought to occur in the first 28 days after conception, before most women realize they are expecting a baby. You should have sufficient amount of folic acid in your system for a month before conception as well as during first three months of pregnancy.
You can get folic acids from foods and supplements. Here is the list of foods high in folic acid (please note the values are in micrograms per serving):
- Chicken livers, simmered: 1/2 cup — 539
- Bulgur, cooked: 2/3 cup — 158
- Okra, frozen, cooked: 1/2 cup — 134
- Orange juice, fresh or canned: 1 cup — 136
- Spinach, fresh, cooked: 1/2 cup — 130
- White beans, cooked: 1/2 cup — 120
- Red kidney beans, cooked: 1/2 cup — 114
- Orange juice, frozen, diluted: 1 cup — 109
- Soybeans, cooked: 1/2 cup — 100
- Wheat germ: 1 ounce — 100
As you see it’s not hard to get 0.4mg of folic acid from foods when you know about these foods. But unless you are eating chicken livers every day you might not be getting enough. Taking folic acid supplement or a multivitamin that contains folic acid will solve the problem.
It is strange that we are reminded to wear sunscreen wherever we go but we are not reminded to take folic acid. Looking at the pictures of infants with anencephaly it’s probably safe to say that most women would prefer skin cancer. Please share this article: