Folic acid is important before and during pregnancy6.10.2022 · 3 min reading
Have you decided now is the right time to have a baby? Congratulations! You are about to enter an exciting period that will completely change your life. But because the right nutrients and vitamins are very important for the development of the foetus and the mother's health, let's look at the most important one today: folic acid.
Folic acid: What is it?
Pretty much every mother has heard about folic acid (folate). While it wasn’t always necessary to supplement this B vitamin in the past, we don’t get enough of it in our diet due to the increase in processed food. This is why doctors began recommending this miracle vitamin to expectant mothers. Why?
Regular doses of folic acid are important fuel for emerging life – they support cell division, contribute to the growth of germ cells and promote healthy development of the child’s nervous system.
It’s normal to worry about your child’s health, but folate is powerful
The effects of folic acid have made this supplement an absolute bestseller: clinical studies have indeed confirmed that regular doses of folic acid can not only prevent defects of the brain and spinal cord, they also help prevent complications such as spontaneous abortion, mental retardation and malformation of the heart, mouth and face.
The natural form, known as folate, is found in leafy vegetables, asparagus, legumes, cauliflower, bananas, avocados, beetroot and broccoli. You can also increase your intake by adding veal and chicken liver to your diet.
The synthetic form is known as folic acid.
Folic acid during IVF
Now that you know the difference between folic acid and folate, let’s move on to the most important question: What role does folic acid play in IVF? One of the first studies, conducted at Harvard Medical School, pointed to a link between higher folate levels and successful births, specifically in women undergoing IVF treatment. Two additional studies (1,2) showed that:
Folic acid taken before pregnancy is associated with a lower risk of ovulatory infertility. Another finding was that this supplement results in faster conception, so it plays an important role from the very beginning.
Folic acid for men: Its effect on sperm health
Now let’s take a look at the male side of things and ask whether this miracle can also benefit men’s health. The answer is: It certainly can, and quite significantly. A study published in the Human Reproduction journal found that men who consumed high doses of folic acid through their diet (over 700 mcg/day) reduced their risk of sperm aneuploidy by up to 30 percent. Dutch researchers also showed that men who took 5 mg of folic acid and 66 mg of zinc increased their total sperm count by 74 percent.
The bottom line is that folic acid supplementation can also help men with fertility by minimising the likelihood of problems that can lead to birth defects or miscarriages.
What is the dosage for women?
400 micrograms per day are generally recommended for women, which is a dose found in over-the-counter readily available supplements. During IVF treatment and in the first trimester (when the most important developmental processes take place), sometimes a double dose is taken, but you should always discuss the dosage with your attending physician.
Deficiency vs overdose, two extremes of folic acid
Doctors warn that particularly smokers are at risk of a lack of folic acid and that the symptoms of its deficiency are very broad: from anaemia to extreme fatigue and general weakness to mood disorders, memory problems or skin complications. You can find out if you have enough of this vitamin with a simple blood test. And what happens when you overdo it? If there is a lot of folic acid in the body, it is eliminated through urine – however, a long-term excess could harm the health of the foetus and the mother.
When should you take folic acid?
Higher doses of folic acid (800 micrograms) are generally recommended three months before pregnancy and in the first trimester of pregnancy, with a classic dose (400 micrograms) throughout the rest of the pregnancy. Sometimes the baby may appear big on the ultrasound, so your gynaecologist may recommend that you stop taking folic acid. Folic acid is also beneficial after giving birth, especially during breastfeeding, when you can share it with your baby through breast milk.