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Why do I need folic acid in pregnancy?

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Pregnancy is one of the happiest moments in a woman's life, during which the female body undergoes several changes to accommodate a new life.

The frenetic activity of modern life sometimes makes it difficult to live this incredible event naturally, too often still seen as a disease and therefore over-medicalised.

On the other hand, gestation in every culture has always been considered a "magic" and privileged period in a woman's life and as such should be lived, exception made for the presence of specific issues. Not by chance, in the primitive mythology, was the statue of the Mother Goddess with large breasts and curvy, rounded hips venerated as a symbol of auspicious fertility.

A healthy lifestyle in the course of the 9 months of gestation and a balanced diet are therefore the first "gifts" that a mother can give to the unborn child. A pregnant woman in normal conditions should not, as many still believe, "eat for two", but should get, in the daily diet, the right amounts of nutrients and vitamins necessary for promoting healthy and proper development of the foetus.

Of all the important nutrients, a major role in this period is played by folates and folic Acid, responsible for the proper synthesis of DNA. As a matter of fact, according to experts, a lack of folic acid during pregnancy may cause various foetal problems, for example, "many brain and nervous system defects such as spina bifida or microcephaly." (P. Pigozzi, Il cibo in gravidanza, Giunti Editore, Firenze 2002).

Foods and supplements high in folic acid

Folic acid, or vitamin B9, owes its name to the Latin folium (leaf): the first to coin the term was the American scholar Mitchell, who, in the forties, extracted this substance from spinach leaves. The minimum daily dose of folic acid that a pregnant woman should take to ensure proper foetal development is 400 mcg; according to the guidelines of the Italian Ministry of Health, this dose should be taken, if possible, as early as one month before pregnancy, when you are already planning conception.

A varied and balanced diet should generally ensure sufficient doses of folic acid (it is estimated that the minimum dose for an adult is about 200-300 mcg). This vitamin is present in high doses in the asparagus and in cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower) as well as in good quantities in citrus fruits, dried fruit, legumes, spinach and other vegetables.

During pregnancy, however, the daily requirement of folic acid increases because the foetus, in order to develop properly, draws on the mother resources of this substance. Sometimes nutrition alone is not sufficient to ensure maternal body the minimum doses needed for proper foetal development, especially because excessive cooking degrades the presence of this vitamin in food. One should also bear in mind that certain drugs can reduce the absorption of folic acid, which, in turn, may encourage deficiencies. That is why many gynaecologists advise pregnant women to supplement this valuable vitamin, making use of specific products at least until the third month of gestation. The best supplements for this purpose are those that, in a single daily dose, provide a pregnant woman with an amount of folic acid of at least 400 mcg (200% NRV). Finally, remember that there is no risk in taking higher amounts of this vitamin, therefore "you can consume amounts about one thousand times higher than the daily requirement without harmful effects, since the excess amounts are excreted in the urine." (M. Lipartiti, Lezioni di nutrizione, Tecniche Nuove 1998).


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