On Your Health

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Folic Acid and Fertility

04 January 2017

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There are so many exciting moments to look forward to when trying to get pregnant – discovering the gender, feeling your baby kick for the first time, setting up the nursery – and finally, meeting your tiny bundle of joy.

However, if you’re trying to conceive, the most important thing to focus on is making sure your body is a strong and healthy environment for your baby to develop. Taking folic acid can not only improve your chances of conceiving, but it also reduces the risk of serious birth defects that can occur in the first month of pregnancy.

Benefits of Folic Acid

Folic acid is a B vitamin that naturally occurs in both men and women to help generate new cells. Folic acid is a key component in all prenatal vitamins due to its benefits for fertility and pregnancy. Dr. Katherine Shepherd, obstetrician and gynecologist at INTEGRIS Women’s Health Edmond, recommends women start taking prenatal vitamins or folic acid supplements at least one month prior to trying to conceive. However, because 50 percent of pregnancies are unplanned, Shepherd urges all women of childbearing age to take prenatal vitamins daily.

Fertility and Folic Acid

More than 12 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 54 experience problems with fertility. Consuming high levels of folic acid can potentially reduce ovulation problems in healthy women who are trying to conceive. However, Shepherd says the research to support folic acid’s impact on female fertility is not extensive. If you have been trying to conceive for more than six months, consider consulting a gynecologist or fertility specialist.

Pregnancy and Folic Acid

There are 3,000 cases of neural tube defects in the United States each year. NTDs occur when the developing neural tube does not close properly in the first month of pregnancy, leaving part of the spinal cord exposed, which causes severe developmental defects in the spine and brain. According to the Center for Disease Control, women who consume 400 micrograms of folic acid per day prior to conceiving have a lower risk of NTDs.

According to Dr. Shepherd, there are two factors that can increase the risk of NTDs -- a previous pregnancy that resulted in an NTD and taking anti-seizure medications. In these cases, Shepherd recommends that women take 4 milligrams of folic acid daily.

It is important to note that you cannot take too much folic acid. However, it is possible to consume too much vitamin A, which is found in prenatal vitamins. That’s why any amount of folic acid exceeding 400 micrograms should be taken in a separate folic acid supplement.

Sources of Folic Acid

Many foods naturally contain folic acid. Other foods are fortified with folic acid due to FDA regulations. Even so, it is challenging to consistently consume 400 micrograms of folic acid through diet alone. Shepherd highly recommends that all women of childbearing age take prenatal vitamins to supplement a healthy, balanced diet high in folic acid. The following foods are excellent sources of folic acid:

  • Cereal
  • Lentils
  • Beans
  • Avocado
  • Dark green vegetables (broccoli, spinach, collard or turnip greens, okra, Brussels sprouts, and asparagus)
  • Citrus fruit and juice

If you are trying to conceive or could become pregnant, make sure that you are taking 400 micrograms of folic acid to lower your baby’s risk of developing a neural tube defect. If you have questions about fertility or pregnancy risks and would like to consult a gynecologist, schedule an appointment today.