Benefits Of Folate During Pregnancy

Benefits Of Folate During Pregnancy
Written by: Jamie Alvino, Alexandra Decker, Christina Chagaris, Ambar Palacios, and Chelsea Washington; LIU Post Dietetic Interns
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Nicole Palmer, DO
In This Article:

★ ARE FOLATE AND FOLIC ACID THE SAME THING?

★ WHAT IS FOLATE GOOD FOR? 

★ FOLATE REQUIREMENTS DURING PREGNANCY

★ ARE THERE MAJOR RISKS WITH MATERNAL FOLATE DEFICIENCY?

★ CAN YOU TAKE TOO MUCH FOLATE DURING PREGNANCY?

★ SOURCES OF FOLATE-RICH FOODS

★ BEST PRENATAL VITAMINS WITH FOLATE

 

By now you have probably heard of folate and the importance it holds for women of childbearing age.  But why is this specific vitamin so important?  Folate benefits include supporting healthy cell growth, heart and blood health, and allowing the body to function properly.  

So, Why is folate important during pregnancy?  During pregnancy, the need for folate increases because folate is not only being used to support your body through a healthy pregnancy but is also impacting the health and development of your baby.  

We will discuss the importance of folate/folic acid during pregnancy, folate deficiency symptoms, and folate food sources. 

★ ARE FOLATE AND FOLIC ACID THE SAME THING?

Well not exactly, the difference between folate and folic acid is that folic acid is the synthetic form of folate. Folic acid is used in dietary supplements and fortified foods. Folate is found naturally in foods. Some food that is high in folate includes dark leafy greens, legumes, and avocado to name a few. 

Folate converts to 5-MTHF, the tissue-ready form of folate, in the digestive system before entering the bloodstream. Folic acid needs to be converted in the liver, or other tissues, which takes more time for your body to convert. Because this process is less efficient than the process of folate converting to 5-MTHF, not all folic acid is metabolized and properly converted. The unmetabolized folic acid can sit in the bloodstream which has been linked to certain health problems such as undetected B12 or folate deficiency, and increased risks for cancer (9).

Both folate and folic acid are equally beneficial for birth defect prevention to neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. Spina bifida is one of the most common birth defects and occurs within the first weeks of pregnancy when the baby’s brain and spinal cord are still forming. 

Most neural tube defects can be prevented with proper folate intake when planning to become pregnant. However, some women may have an increased risk of having a pregnancy affected by neural tube defects and are advised to take higher doses every day until they are 12 weeks pregnant. Women may have increased risk if they or their partner have the following (3)

  • a neural tube defect
  • a family history of neural tube defects
  • had a previous pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect
  • are diabetic
  • have a BMI greater than 30
  • have a risk leading to difficulty absorbing nutrients 

★ WHAT IS FOLATE GOOD FOR? 

Folate is one of many B vitamins - B9 to be exact!  This vitamin is found naturally in certain folate-rich foods but is often added to fortified foods such as grain and cereal products.  Not only does folate contribute to the health and well-being of mom, but it also prevents birth defects and has a significant impact on the development and health of the baby.

Folate is a water-soluble vitamin, which means any excess folate in the body will be excreted in urine.  Instead, folate is found in the bloodstream. During pregnancy, consuming an adequate amount of folate is essential for proper fetal development and can prevent major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine (3).

When discussing the function of folate, it is necessary to mention the impact folate coupled with vitamin B12 has on DNA synthesis and heart health.  Together, these vitamins support your body in making new proteins for DNA.  Folate and vitamin B12 also work together to help your body create healthy red blood cells, which support a healthy heart.  

★ FOLATE REQUIREMENTS DURING PREGNANCY

Due to the fact that the neural tube closes by the 4th week of pregnancy, it is recommended that women planning to become pregnant and of childbearing age consume 400 mcg of folate per day (4).  When it comes to pregnancy, it is recommended that women consume 500 mcg per day.

Research suggests, consuming 500 mcg of folate is necessary during the first trimester of pregnancy to reduce the risk of birth defects, such as neural tube defects (4).  For breastfeeding women, the recommendation increases to 600 mcg per day to ensure the baby is consuming adequate folate after birth. 

★ ARE THERE MAJOR RISKS WITH MATERNAL FOLATE DEFICIENCY?

Without folate, the body cannot successfully form DNA or divide cells. That being said, folate deficiency during pregnancy is associated with the development of neural tube defects. The two most common are spina bifida, a condition that prevents spinal cord formation, and anencephaly, affecting skull/brain growth and development (7).

Folate deficiency often occurs in conjunction with anemia.  Symptoms of folate deficiency and types of anemia for mom include:

  • Fatigue
  • Swelling of the tongue
  • Mouth sores
  • Irritability 
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Pale skin
  • Muscle aches
  • Weakness 

★ CAN YOU TAKE TOO MUCH FOLATE DURING PREGNANCY?

When taking high amounts of folate, it is important to make sure other nutrients are not paying the price.  It has been found in research that overconsumption of folate can mask the presence of a vitamin B12 deficiency (8).  This can lead to other issues such as impaired nerve function and long-term development of dementia.  

Continued exposure to high levels of folate during pregnancy may lead to insulin resistance in newborns.  Research has shown that vitamin B12 deficiency coupled with high folate intake during pregnancy may increase this risk (8).  When taking high doses of folate supplements, be sure to consult your physician. 

★ SOURCES OF FOLATE-RICH FOODS

  • Asparagus
  • Legumes (beans, peas, and lentils)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Edamame 
  • Eggs
  • Leafy greens
  • Avocado
  • Broccoli & Brussel sprouts
  • Squash 
  • Mango, papaya & citrus fruits
  • Bananas 
  • Fortified grains, nutritional yeast & wheat germ

Folate is a water-soluble vitamin that is easily destroyed by cooking. In which case, lightly cooking vegetables or eating them raw would have a greater benefit. Additionally, microwaving or steamed vegetables are also preferred. 

best prenatal vitamin with folate

★ BEST PRENATAL VITAMINS WITH FOLATE

One of the best over-the-counter prenatal vitamins during pregnancy is Feed Mom & Me Complete Prenatal with Folate. It contains 471 mcg of Folate per tablet. 

This prenatal is formulated by an OBGYN & Registered Dietitian, containing all the nutrients needed to conceive and during pregnancy. Each small and easy-to-swallow pill is packed with 22 key natural vitamins and minerals to provide nutritional support for you and your growing baby. It contains Folate (methyl folate form), DHA, Iron, Calcium, Choline, Biotin, Zinc, Magnesium, and Selenium.

The vegetarian formula is free of artificial colors or flavors, chemicals, preservatives, non-GMO, dairy, soy, or gluten-free. Each of their capsules contains B6, Organic Ginger, and Peppermint Powder, which can help alleviate morning sickness and nausea.

Adding to that, it is a women-owned company. Who better than a female would understand pregnancy!

 

 

 

 

+SOURCES
  • https://feedmomandme.com/products/complete-prenatal-vitamin-with-dha
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  8. Palchetti, C. Z., & Lobo Marchioni, D. M. (2020). Letter to the editor: Comment on “Folate and vitamin b12 status is associated with insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome in morbid obesity.” Clinical Nutrition, 39(8), 2635. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clnu.2020.05.032
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