National Folic Acid Awareness Week, observed during the first full week of January every year (January 4– 10 this year), brings much-needed attention to this crucial vitamin that is especially important to women who are either pregnant or may become pregnant. This is because folic acid in one’s diet is a key weapon in the fight against folate deficiency anemia in infants. In fact, if taken before conception and during early pregnancy, folic acid can also prevent up to 70% of some neural tube defects (serious birth defects of the brain and spine).
The powerful B vitamin has been and continues to be added to staples such as flour and pasta, and it is also found in high proportions in unaltered foods like leafy greens, bread and legumes. It supports cardiovascular, brain, and neural health. Our bodies use folic acid to produce new cells, thus making it important in the development of a strong, healthy fetus.
So get in tune with the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN), eat your broccoli and get that folic acid in your system!
History of Folic Acid Awareness Week
Folic Acid Awareness Week has been recognized as a part of the CDC-backed National Birth Defects Prevention Month since January of 1997. The CDC and NBDPN hold an annual joint convention to review the information gathered on birth defects during the year prior and to share new scientific discoveries, successful medical practices, and natal wellness in general. The yearly report may use words like “surveillance,” but that only refers to data collection in general, not surreptitious observation of unknowing mothers-to-be. The idea is that the more information is collated and analyzed, the more medical professionals will be able to help families give birth to healthy, alert, and button-cute babies.
The quick-reference number for the amount of folic acid or vitamin B9 (and we like how that sounds like, ‘benign,’ don’t you?) that women should consume each day is 400 micrograms. But that can be intimidating to measure and keep track of on your own. An expecting mother should routinely check with her doctor, who can fine-tune those levels for the optimal health of mother and fetus. And just as with every other regimen, like fitness, studying, or learning a new skill at work, your folic acid intake and monitoring will become second nature. If there’s a partner who’s pregnant with you, you may find that cooking vitamin-rich natural meals is enjoyable in its own right, so that you barely have to think about folic acid. There’s lots of other stuff to be aware of, without a doubt.
But this week, we urge you to pay strict attention to this one preventative measure. Not only that, but spread the word to friends and family who may not have the current information. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, especially when certain defects have no cure at all!
Folic Acid Awareness Week timeline
Folic acid increasingly makes an appearance in common foods, as it’s artificially added to enriched flour, rice, pasta, and bread in the U.S.
Some supplement companies started launching vitamins that contained B9.
Dr. Lucy Wills first discovered that folate was needed in order to prevent anemia in pregnancy, thus launching further research into the importance of folic acid.
The textbook, "Tabulae Anatomicae," written by Christianus Welsch, mentioned spina bifida for the first time in print.
Folic Acid Awareness Week FAQs
What are neural tube defects?
These are serious fetal brain and spinal cord defects, including spina bifida and anencephaly, that develop in early pregnancy. The neural tube, which will later form the spinal cord and early brain, does not close the way it should.
Are folic acid and folate the same thing?
Though the two terms are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between them. While ‘folate’ describes the several different forms of vitamin B9 that occur naturally as in citrus fruits and leafy greens, ‘folic acid’ refers to the artificially-added vitamin that is used to enrich flours, pastas and breads to specifically assist in preventing certain birth defects.
Are there other benefits to taking a folic acid supplement?
There are several, including diminished risk of arsenic poisoning from poor drinking water, but in the U.S. there is another that is perhaps more relevant: taking a regular dose of folic acid has been found to result in a significantly smaller risk of stroke and other heart ailments connected with hypertension (high blood pressure).
How to Observe Folic Acid Awareness Week
Learn about birth defects and their prevention.
As we’ve seen, lack of folic acid can lead to some unfortunate and serious neural tube defects in unborn babies. Take the time to better inform yourself about the ways in which some defects can be prevented. Knowledge is power.
Spread the word on social media.
Help call attention to National Folic Acid Awareness Week by giving it some love on your socials. The more people who know about the importance of folic acid, the better. (Hint: Official social media “kits” can be found on the .gov sites that focus on folic acid.)
Incorporate more folic acid into your diet.
We all can benefit from a little extra folic acid in our diets. Luckily, getting this important B vitamin is pretty darn easy. There are a ton of multivitamins out there that contain folic acid, and many foods like grains, pasta, and cereals are fortified with folic acid. We’ll share a hot tip with you: cooked broccoli actually contains more B9 than raw broccoli does!
5 AMAZING FACTS ABOUT B VITAMINS
There are eight types of B vitamin
These include thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and more, as well as folic acid, and they are all water-soluble and unable to be stored well by the human body.
We can “B” in the majority
Our bodies need a total of thirteen vitamins, and since the “B-complex” makes up eight of those, it’s arguably accurate to say that they’re the most needed.
Broccoli: the exception that proves the rule
B vitamins dissolve in water and are easily destroyed by things like heat or alcohol.
“Don’t try this at home”
It’s important not to try to self-diagnose a vitamin deficiency – the reason for this is that if you do so, and then conclude that the cure is to take larger doses of your vitamins, you run the risk of toxicity, depending on the specific vitamin and the amount of overdose.
Vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin), which has a close relationship with folic acid, only comes from animal sources unless you take it in a supplement.
WHY NATIONAL FOLIC ACID AWARENESS WEEK IS IMPORTANT
Folic acid makes healthy babies
Babies are serious business. According to the CDC, a pregnant mom who gets adequate amounts of folic acid reduces the risk of spina bifida and anencephaly by around 70 percent. That's definitely a reason to pop a prenatal vitamin!
It brings attention to birth defects
Folic Acid Awareness Week happens in January — which is also National Birth Defects Prevention Month. Let's do our part to reduce the chances of babies being born with some possibly preventable illnesses.
It encourages women to start taking folic acid before becoming pregnant
A ton of crucial fetal development happens within the first few weeks of pregnancy, a time when many moms-to-be usually have no idea that they are even expecting. Doctors typically encourage women of childbearing age to either take a multivitamin or eat foods rich in folic acid before becoming pregnant.