Folic Acid
by Marty Couret, MSN, NP

Folic Acid in the Prevention of Neural Tube Defects

Folic acid intake in the weeks prior to conception and in the early weeks of pregnancy has been shown to significantly reduce the occurrence of neural tube defects. Since half of all pregnancies are unplanned, the US Public Health Service recommends that all women of child bearing age take 400 mcg of folic acid a day. Dietary folic acid is only 50% bioavailable. Therefore the average daily intake of 400 mcg, results in a 200 mcg uptake of folic acid. However, synthetic folic acid supplements are almost 100% bioavailable making them the optimum way of receiving the necessary 400 mcg each day. Most multivitamins have at least 400 mcg of folic acid.

Health Benefits Beyond Pregnancy

Folic acid is important to all individuals

  • Folic acid is necessary in the production of red blood cells. Deficiency of folic acid can result in macrocytic anemia.
  • Folic acid has been shown to reduce homocysteine levels. This may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • There is evidence that 800 mcg of folic acid may reverse mild cervical dysplasia and prevent cervical cancer.
  • Research has shown that folic acid may prevent colon cancer.
  • While there is no known toxic level of folic acid, it is recommended that daily intake be less than 1gm. High levels of folic acid can mask a B12 deficiency.

For more information check out these resources

March of Dimes Folic Acid Information

Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs (Position Paper)

CDC Folic Acid Information

A Prevention Model and Resource Guide

Case Study Instruction for Students


Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Knowledge and use of folic acid by women of child bearing age - 1995 and 1998. MMWR 1999;48 (no. 16).

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Recommendations for the use of folic acid to reduce the number of cases of spina bifida and other neural tube defects. MMWR 1992; 41 (no.RR-14).

Folic Acid Talking Points. Folic Acid Steering Committee, Tennessee Department of Health.

Last updated: October 10, 2000


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