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Benefits of Folic Acid periconceptually

Folic acid (Vitamin B9) is essential for DNA production and
therefore the development of the body since it provides one carbon units for purine
(Adenine and Guanine) and pyrimidine (Cytosine and Thymine) synthesis.1
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that women
should intake 400mcg per day, and this has been expressed by US Public
Health Service (USPHS) as well.2
This is vital for erythrocyte proliferation. For this reason, a deficiency in
Folic acid leads to macrocytic anaemia which leads to other complications, such
as the inability to absorb nutrients through the intestines.3

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“There are 3,000 pregnancies affected
by spina bifida or anencephaly, which are neural tube defects (NTDs) caused by
the incomplete closing of the spine and skull.” – CDC4


Periconceptually, folic acid is shown to be an important molecule
since it synthesizes DNA and therefore, it prevents prevent birth defects such
as neural tube defects (NTDs), in which the brain (anencephaly) and spine (spina
bifida) are defected. These defects can be expressed in the first few weeks of pregnancy.

Neural tubes are formed from the ectoderm in a foetus and
the development of this is improper with a deficiency in folic acid. In Spina Bifida the Spinous Process of
some of the lumbar vertebrae doesn’t fully develop due to failure of mesoderm
to organize and differentiate, leaving various degrees of opening down the middle
of the lower back.5 Anencephaly is
the absence of a large portion of the cephalic region involving the skull,
brain and the scalp that occurs during embryonic development.6

The CDC reports that women who intake the daily requirement of
folic acid (Vit B-9) beginning at least one month before conception and during
the first three months of pregnancy, reduce their baby’s risk of neural tube
defects by up to 70%.7

Three approaches to increase folate consumption have been
recommended by the USPHS:

“1. Improve dietary habits 2. Fortify
foods with folic acid and 3. Use dietary supplements containing folic acid”
– CDC8


fortification of cereal grain breakfast products with folate (Vit – B9) went
into effect in USA in January 1998 by a law that was implemented by USPHS. The
report from this action is as follows: During October 1998–December 1999, the
reported incidence of spina bifida declined 31%, and the incidence of
anencephaly declined by 16%. This showed that intake of Folate periconceptually
is strongly correlated with a decrease in incidence of Neural Tube Defects 9


Dr. Anne Molloy, Professor at TCD, Lecture Notes on Iron, Folate and Vitamin





6 O’Rahilly,
M; Muller, F (1992). Human Embryology & Teratology. New York: Wiley-Liss,
Inc. p. 253. ISBN 0471382256.




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