Folic Acid 101

Folic Acid, also known as folate, is a B vitamin that offers several health benefits when trying to conceive and during early pregnancy.
  • Reduced risk of neural tube defects Folic acid plays a crucial role in the early development of the baby’s neural tube, which eventually forms the brain and spinal cord. Sufficient folic acid intake before conception and during the early weeks of pregnancy can significantly reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) like spina bifida and anencephaly.
  • Prevention of birth defects In addition to neural tube defects, folic acid may help prevent other birth defects, such as cleft lip, cleft palate, and certain heart defects.
  • Supports healthy ovulation Folic acid supports healthy cell division and replication, which is essential for the maturation and release of healthy eggs during ovulation.
  • Improved sperm quality Folic acid is beneficial for men as well. Research suggests that folic acid supplementation may improve sperm count and sperm quality, which can enhance fertility.
  • Reduces risk of pregnancy complications Adequate folic acid intake may lower the risk of preeclampsia, a potentially dangerous type of high blood pressure that some people experience during pregnancy.
  • Promotes overall health Folic acid supports the immune system, red blood cell formation, as well as DNA synthesis and repair. Taking adequate levels of folic acid supports overall health, which is essential for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.
When to take folic acid
Since neural tube defects occur in the earliest stage of pregnancy, often before a pregnancy is even confirmed, prioritizing sufficient folic acid intake before the end of the first trimester is critical. It can be difficult to get enough folic acid from food alone, so for those who are trying to conceive it is recommended to start taking a folic acid supplement, usually around 400-800 micrograms per day, at least one month before conception – then continuing throughout the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

How folic acid helps
Folic acid plays a crucial role in preventing neural tube defects through its involvement in multiple critical stages of early fetal development.
  • Cell division and growth During the early stages of pregnancy, rapid cell division and growth occur as the embryo develops. Folic acid is essential for the synthesis of DNA, which is necessary for the formation of new cells. This includes the cells that eventually develop into the neural tube, which later becomes the baby’s brain and spinal cord.
  • Methylation processes Folic acid is also involved in methylation, which plays a critical role in regulating gene expression and ensuring proper cellular function.
  • Preventing DNA damage Insufficient folate levels can lead to abnormalities in DNA synthesis and the methylation process, increasing the risk of genetic mutations and structural defects in the developing baby.
Folate foods In addition to taking supplements, consuming folate-rich foods can help you meet your folic acid intake goals, including:
  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Citrus fruits and citrus fruit juices
  • Beans and legumes
  • Avocados
  • Broccoli
  • Asparagus
  • Foods that are fortified with folic acid, such as breakfast cereals, bread, and pasta
Risks The only proven risk of taking a folate supplement is the potential of masking vitamin B12 deficiency, a condition that is rare in reproductive-age women. There are also situations in which the risk of NTDs may not be reduced or prevented by folate supplements, such as poor first trimester glycemic control in women with diabetes, hyperthermia, and NTDs associated with genetic syndromes.

Suggested for you

Optimizing Fertility Through Nutrition: A Guide to Healthy Family Planning

Optimizing Fertility Through Nutrition: A Guide to Healthy Family Planning

Setting the foundation for healthy families Getting ready to start a family? Nutrition plays a critical...
Fun Summer Recipes to Support Fertility

Fun Summer Recipes to Support Fertility

Summertime fun often involves food!  Picnics, barbecues, cookouts, and trying new restaurants or dining al...
How These 3 Popular Supplements Impact Fertility

How These 3 Popular Supplements Impact Fertility

If you’re TTC, you may have seen TikTok videos or other opinions on the internet making claims about...