The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all women who could become pregnant get between 400-800 micrograms of folic acid daily.
Studies show that if all women consumed the recommended amount of folic acid before and during early pregnancy, up to 70 percent of all neural tube defects could be prevented. Recent studies indicate that folic acid supplementation may have added benefits for women’s health.
GO FOLIC! promotes the concept of healthy nutrition and the benefits of daily supplementation of folic acid while enhancing the general health and well-being of clients.
Folic Acid Benefits Babies & Reduces Health Care Costs
Folic acid taken before conception reduces infant morbidity and mortality associated with folic acid deficiency. Folic acid supplementation:
- Reduces by 70% the risk of neural tube defects (1 in 1000 U.S. births at an annual cost of approximately $294,000 per child)
- May reduce the risk for low birth weight/premature babies (1 in 8 U.S. births at an average cost of $49,000 during the first year of life)
- May reduce the risk of other birth defects, such as cleft lip and palate and defects of the cardiovascular system and urinary tract
In the U.S., 50% of all pregnancies are unplanned. Even though NTDs occur before most women know that they are pregnant, a 2007 March of Dimes/Gallop pole found that only 40% of women between the ages of 18-45 take a daily multivitamin.
- Folic acid plays an important role in the production of red blood cells. Individuals who are deficient in folic acid sometimes develop a form of anemia called megaloblastic anemia (characterized by a reduced number of red blood cells).
- High levels of the amino acid homocysteine are independently associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. It has been shown that taking folic acid lowers homocysteine levels in both men and women, but it is not yet known whether folic acid supplementation also lowers the risk of heart disease and stroke.
- While further research is needed, studies have found that supplementation may also reduce the risk of colon, cervical and other cancers.
The following medical conditions are among those that require increased folic acid intake, and for which supplementation is recommended:
- pregnancy and lactation
- alcohol abuse
- kidney dialysis
- liver disease
- certain anemias
Evaluations and studies have found that even a short discussion with your clients about folic acid can improve their health:
- A 2010 evaluation of the Go Folic! project, the results of which were presented at the 2010 APHA Annual Conference (handout) and at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s 3rd National Preconception Health Summit (power point) found that:
> Over 70% of clients reported that they learned about folic acid and started to take a multivitamin consistently because of Go Folic!;
> Over 90% of clinic staff surveyed felt that offering free vitamins with folic acid to female clients should be a routine component of clinical services.
- A systematic review of folic acid supplementation programs (Stockley & Lund, 2008) concluded that, “Health-care based initiatives can be effective and are more likely to be successful if they include making supplements easily available… and include elements that specifically target vulnerable women.”
Folic Acid to Prevent Neural Tube Defects, Topic Page. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf/uspsnrfol.htm