The foundations of healthy pregnancy – folic acid

Folic acid is a compound belonging to B vitamins (it is referred to as vitamin B9), which has a beneficial effect on the development of the nervous system, the formation and growth of blood cells and the synthesis of DNA. It prevents damage to the so-called neural tube of the baby developing in the mother’s womb.

Do Polish women suffer from folic acid deficiency?

An ordinary diet usually does not satisfy the demand for folic acid before and during pregnancy. The research conducted on the Polish population demonstrates that the consumption of folic acid by as many as 90% of women is below the recommended daily allowance (400 µg).

Folic acid is naturally found in green vegetables, such as spinach, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, artichokes, nuts and legumes – peas, soybean and beans. High quantities of folic acid are also found in citrus fruits. However, in order to obtain the recommended 400 µg of folic acid, one would have to eat approx. 12 oranges, or 2 kilograms of this fruit.

A problem with folic acid absorption.

The folic acid contained in foodstuffs is hardly absorbable. It is also highly sensitive to external factors. A negative impact on folic acid absorption is exerted by changes in the digestive pH or food processing (cooking, crushing) – while being cooked, spinach loses as much as 50% of its folic acid content. It is also nicotine, alcohol and certain medications (such as contraceptives, hyperacidity agents) that limit folic acid absorption.

MTHFR gene mutation. What is it?

Few women also realise that the folic acid they supply through supplementation or in their diet is not used in all of them. Research indicates that every second Polish woman, to a greater or lesser degree, fails to convert folic acid into its active form (the so-called active folate). This is due to the mutation of the MTHFR gene which is responsible for converting of the biologically inactive folic acid into its active form that can be directly used by the body. For preventive purposes (since the tests detecting the mutation are very expensive), state-of-the-art preparations contain mixed forms of folates (folic acid and active folate). As a result, both women with MTHFR gene mutation and those without the mutation are able to achieve adequately high folic acid concentrations in their tissues.

Due to its fundamental importance (especially before conception and during pregnancy), in order to prevent folic acid deficiencies, it is necessary to pay attention to products naturally rich in folic acid and, in the case of pregnancy, in the reproductive period and during breastfeeding – to intentional supplementation of folates.