What is Folate?

Folate is a B vitamin that occurs in food. Folic acid is the synthetic version of this vitamin that is found in supplements and fortified foods.

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Faith Bontrager, RN, BSN

Faith Bontrager, RN, BSNFaith's passion in nursing is to help people find the options they need to discover their personal path to optimum health. Ask her friends and they will tell you that their appreciation of nutritious food has grown through Faith. About Faith Bontrager, RN, BSN


A Healthy Pregnancy

Folic acid in pregnancy and language development

Adequate folic acid, a B vitamin, can reduce the risk of birth defects such as spina bifida and other neural tube birth defects. The concept that women should have adequate folate pre-conception and in the first weeks of pregnancy was an early message in modern public health. This led to supplementation of foods such as cereals and bread in the United States. Most women who plan pregnancies are now aware of this association. Rates of neural tube defects have declined.

Might adequate levels of folic acid be important for other parts of baby's neural development?

A study carried out in Norway (JAMA 2011;306(14):1566 -1573) demonstrates a connection between adequate folic acid and normal language development. Norway does not supplement foods with folic acid, so the difference in folate status between women who take folic acid supplements and women who do not is likely to be more pronounced than in the United States.

Researchers reviewed data from a large data set where women were recruited during the first half of their pregnancy (when they are likely to remember early pregnancy behaviors accurately) and followed after birth. They grouped data around women who:

  • Started taking folic acid supplements preconception or in early pregnancy
  • Started taking folic acid later in their pregnancy
  • Did not regularly take folic acid supplements.

They discovered women who started folic acid supplements before conception or up through 8 weeks gestation had a substantially reduced risk of having a child with a severe language delay at age 3.

Starting a folic acid supplement after 8 weeks gestation did not show the same benefit, but the numbers of women who started supplements at this time were small, so it is possible there may be a benefit that this study couldn't demonstrate.

This particular study covered supplement use in pregnant women. Most doctors recommend a prenatal vitamin for their pregnant patients. However, a vitamin pill should never be more than a "supplement" to a healthy diet.

Good food sources of folate include beans, green leafy vegetables, fruits, sunflower seeds, and grains. You can also get folic acid from enriched cereals and breads.

Eat well - for you and your baby!