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The Importance Of Folic Acid And DHA In The Prevention Of Birth Defects

Updated on May 6, 2012

Aside from taking care of her overall physical well-being, a new pregnant mom to be should also be making sure that she is getting the proper amount of essential nutrients, that is so crucial in the continuing development of her unborn child.

This is why it is essential during the early stages of her pregnancy, to eat a diet that is particularly rich and fortified with the B-Vitamins. This is sometimes easier said tean done and even though most pregnant women and new moms know how to take care of their bodies during the early pregnancy stages; there are others who do not and rely totally on the advice of their Ob/Gyn professional.

However an Ob/Gyn physician, or other family healthcare provider can give so much direction, and basically the rest is up to you, in making sure that the soon to be new member of the family is getting his or her share of the B-Vitamins often found in many foods, including milk and dairy products, green leafy vegetables and fruits, to name a few of the more popular choices.

Green-leafy vegetables, fruits and a variety of dairy products are a great source for obtaining the necessary nutritients needed for a pregnant women and their unborn child, but they often fall short in providing enough B-Vitamins in the form of folate or folic acid. And in addition they often lack DHA (Docosahexanoic Acid) Omega-3 fatty fish oil derivatives, which are found in cold water fatty fishes (ie.) Bluefin Tuna, Salmon and herring for example.

That is why it is important to incorporate a prescription strength vitamin supplement that contains both folic acid and DHA into a balanced meal. As briefly touched upon in this article, a pregnant women does not always get the proper amount of folic acid and folate in the foods she eats on a daily basis. And it cannot be stressed enough of how important this is, particularly in preventing birth related pregancy defects early in a pregnant women's neonatal and third tri-semester stages.

Spina Bifida for one is a NTD (Neural Tubal Defect) that can develop in the first three to four weeks of pregnancy. What happens during spina bifida is that the neural tube-the area that forms the spine of the newborn infant does not close properly.

And as a result in its more severe form, spina bifida can lead to bladder control problems, leg paralysis, bowel problems and mental retardation. As a continuation of this, there are approximately 3.1 births out of about 10,000 that spina bifida is responsible for causing.

It has been suggested by the CDC that if enough women take the B vitamin folic acid, as well as folate and vitamin B-12 before and during pregnancy; that there would be a 50 to 70% decrease in spina bifida cases.

For this reason alone, it is suggested that pregnant women during the early weeks of pregnancy take a multivitamin fortified with at least 400 mcg (micrograms) of folic acid. However taking a multivitamin alone containing folic acid and DHA is not always recommended. That is why the multivitamin supplement should be taken along with a well balanced meal.

In addition folic acid has been proven very beneficial when utilized in conjunction with vitamin B-12 in the resolution of macrocytic anemia, as well as other prominent anemias, that are also prevalent in women during pregnancy. A few of the more popular prescription grade vitamin supplements on the market today are from the prenate with Quatrefolic brand family.

If your healthcare provider chooses to place you on vitamin therapy early in pregnancy, he or she may choose one of three popular prenatal vitamins-depending on your given situation, and/or nutritional status.

The three choices your doctor may choose for you, may be: Prenate Essential, Prenate DHA or Prenate Elite. These are all good choices that contain 1.1mg or 600 mcg of folic acid, which is 200 micrograms over the standard non-prescription grade of vitamins on the market.

Prenate Essential and Prenate DHA are softgel tablets which also contain a generous amount of DHA or Omega-3 fatty fish oils. The Prenate Elite is a tablet form of the prenate family brand containing all of the essential vitamins and minerals except without the DHA. The reason for this is that some pregnant moms may be allergic to fish containing products, such as fish oil capsules. Prenate Elite can be reserved for a pregnant women if she is allergic to the other two products containing DHA.

DHA is essentially just as important as the folic acid contained within many foods as well as vitamin supplements. In fact it may be even more important then folic acid in a few other ways. One is that it promotes proper functioning of your brain as an adult and for the development of the nervous system and visual abilities during the first six months of life. In addition to this benefit-Omega 3 fatty acids are part of a healthy diet that helps lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.

It is also a known fact that DHA is crucial in the development of the central nervous system and the visual functioning in infants. Evidence also suggests that DHA omega-3 fish oils may reduce the pain associated with menstrual cramps in women. Fish oil capsules should be taken on a daily basis, not just during time of menstruation to reduce menstrual pain related episodes in women. However always consult with your physician before taking any type of supplement even Omega-3 fish oil capsules, or vitamins that contain DHA.

Some good sources of DHA containing Omega-3 fatty fish oil are found in a few of the following cold water fishes. Swordfish, tilefish, mackerel, shark, sardines and specifically salmon, which next to bluefin tuna contains five times more DHA then any other cold water fatty fish. Albacore tuna also contains a generous amount of DHA, but should be limited to about six ounces per week.

If you have a taste for fish and can stomach some of these varieties than you may be better off getting your share of DHA the natural way. However DHA found within a variety of vitamins and other supplements serves as an alternate way of getting the fatty fish oils that works well in conjunction with the folate or folic acid in your diet.

Besides supplementation with DHA and folic acid, some foods that are high in folic acid content are as follows-In the vegetable group you have: Brussel sprouts, Asparagus, Spinach, Broccoli and Artichokes. In the fruit and nut division-Almonds chestnuts, pistachio nuts, oranges and grapefruits are good sources of folic acid.

However just be aware that the later-grapefruits can and have been known to interfere with a variety of presription medications, used to treat other medical conditions. Just play it safe and ask your healthcare provider if you are uncertain of any interactions between certain medications, vitamin supplements and grapefruit consumption.

Camembert, cheddar cheese and grana cheese are also good sources where additional folic acid can be obtained. Beef and pork liver, if you are fond of meat products, provides a high amount of folic acid.

So even though you as a pregnant mom may think that you are getting enough folic acid in your diet without the addition of a multivitamin supplement. Think again, because for the most part you may be receiving the right amount of nutrients in the way of folic acid and DHA, consumed by way of some of the above food groups previously mentioned.

But in addition, just try to remember you also need to consume the right amount of DHA and folic acid containing foods for two people-you and baby. So if you are unsure of what combination of vitamin supplements and/or food groups that you should be eating for you and baby; it would certainly be worth consulting your doctor to see if it would be beneficial to add a prescription grade folic acid/folate derivative in addition to the DHA Omega-3 fatty fish oils.

The initial decision in making these wise choices early in a womens pregnancy, could mean the prevention of pregancy related birth defects such as spina bifida and others before the birth of your new family member. And what's more important then a happy and healthy mom and baby?


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    • Jlbowden profile image

      James Bowden 5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Hi Sue:

      Thank you for your feedback in reference to my article. I am glad that you found it useful and a good reference to fall back on in the future. Take care.


    • Sue B. profile image

      Sue B. 5 years ago

      I found this to be a very useful hub.