Can You Overdose On Folic Acid?
Too Much Folic Acid?
Folic acid is the one vitamin that it is recommended that you take if you are trying to get pregnant or in fact you have found out that you are pregnant. it is essential to take it to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in the baby. These defects can form very early on in the development of the foetus so it is key that folic acid or folate is taken as soon as possible in the pregnancy.
Since I have been trying to get pregnant I have been doing a lot of research into folic acid, how much you should take, how much is too much folic acid and what foods provide us with folic acid?
The results have been quite interesting, as well as conflicting.
Folic acid is generally known as a supplement that women of childbearing age should take. What I didn't know before this research was that meant everyone of childbearing age and not just those who were trying to have a baby. One of the reasons for this is that in the US it is reported that 49% of pregnancies are unplanned. That is a figure that I was surprised about for one. I never really imagined that many people would have unplanned pregnancies (although I am not sure where they got this statistic from - as how many people actually register somewhere that their pregnancy was unplanned? - so I guess like all statistics you have to take it with a pinch of salt!).
Folic Acid Dose
So anyway, the recommended dose of folic acid for pregnant women or women of child bearing age is generally speaking 400 micrograms. I have seen another report that recommends 800 micrograms but 400 seems to be the norm.
It is recommended that folic acid is taken as a supplement as it is not expected that most people will be able to get this much folic acid (or folate as it is in its natural form) from their diet.
The recommended upper level for folic acid intake is 1,000 micrograms, although some people, particularly those who have had a pregnancy that has resulted in a neural tube defect, plus others who may suffer from a folate deficiency, may need up to 5mg of folic acid. Most often this kind of level is recommended by a doctor and you will need to get a prescription for it as you often can't pick it up at this level from a pharmacy. Also, some women who have had multiple miscarriages are prescribed 5mg of folic acid as this can help in some circumstances to lead to a full term pregnancy.
So here is where the problem comes in. A lot of foods have folic acid added to them. On a quick look round my kitchen I found all of the cereals, marmite and milkshake powder had folic acid added. There are plenty more foodstuffs that have been fortified with folic acid (and other vitamins). Added to that you can get a good supply of folate from, in particular, leafy green vegetables. - for example you can get around 60mcg of folic acid from 2 florets of broccoli, or a helping of Brussels sprouts. So if you eat a lot of foods that are rich in folic acid then you will get a good intake.
So in theory, even if you eat a lot of foods that are folic acid rich, you should be OK. Also the figure of 1,000 mcg per day is only a guideline so don't panic if you think you have gone over.
Why Do We Need Folic Acid Anyway?
The reason that we need folic acid is to help prevent neural tube defects in babies - for example spina bifida. Research has shown that if we take the recommended dose of folic acid before and during pregnancy, the chances of having a child with a neural tube defect are reduced by as much as 70%.
And don't forget that as well as the woman taking folic acid, it is important that the man takes folic acid too, before conception, to aid the quality of the sperm. Also children need a daily dose of folate but that can mostly be got from eating fortified cereals etc so it is unlikely that they will need and additional folic acid supplement.
Trying for a Baby?
If you are trying for a baby then you should definitely be taking folic acid tablets. You only need to take 400 micrograms a day unless you have been advised otherwise by your doctor. Folic acid tablets are very cheap so there is really no excuse for not taking them and often they are given out free if you are in a particularly difficult situation. Folic acid tablets are very small and easy to swallow too for those people who have difficulty taking tablets.
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