It has been many decades since scientists discovered the importance of folic acid and our health. Folate is a crucial element for the growth and development of the fetus. Therefore folic acid deficiency can contribute to many defects – especially those related to the neural tube such as anencephaly and spina bifida.
Back in 1965 a theory was developed about the relation between neural tube defects and deficiency in folate. However it wasn’t until many decades later that recommendations were made to increase folic acid consumption. Many clinical trials began to show that by taking folate before and during pregnancy neural tube defects were nearly eliminated.
It wasn’t until 1991 that the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) recommended that women with a family history of neural tube defects take 4,000 micrograms of folic acid every day once they start thinking about becoming pregnant.
Since the neural tube closes only 28 days after conception, and half of all pregnancies in the US are unplanned, it is advised women need to start supplementation before getting pregnant.
Thus, a year later in 1992, the advice from the U.S. Public Health Service changed the recommendation that all women of childbearing age should begin taking at least 400 mcg of folic acid each day. Women should get the folic acid through a combination of diet, fortified foods or a 400mcg folic acid supplement, preferably an active folate supplement like methyl folate.
In an effort to reduce the risk of birth defects due to folic acid deficiency the United States created regulations that mandated fortification of enriched cereal grains with folic acid in 1996. By 1998, the program was fully in place and we have had folic acid enriched foods ever since. Today more than 50 countries around the world have regulations in place for mandatory folic acid fortification of wheat flour.
What To Look Out For with Folic Acid Rich Foods
A diet rich in whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and meat is the best way to get enough folate without the side effects of taking too much artificial folic acid from fortified foods. If you don’t have fresh foods readily available and need to supplement with fortified foods or supplements make sure not to over do it. Keeping folic acid intake under 1,000 mcg a day will help you avoid a potential over dose and keep those adverse side effects at bay.
Having a folic acid deficiency can result in some unpleasant symptoms. If you have a combination of fatigue or weakness, headaches, or just plain irritability you might be deficient in folic acid. But your folate levels might be just fine – it could be your levels of other key vitamins and minerals are deficient. Folate deficiency often comes with other vitamin deficiencies as well.
The best option when you just “don’t feel quite right” is to get your folic acid levels checked by a doctor.
Choosing the right kind of folic acid is important as well. This quick vid gives you a bit more information to go on.