Pregnancy Tips : Importance of Folate

Written by Elizabeth Miller and Lauren Houser

It's good to have as many pregnancy tips as one can gather during the pregnancy period, or even before it, to avoid the complications afterwards. Folate is one of the important factor. The importance of folate for the prevention of neural tube defects during early pregnancy has been well documented. Recent research has found that the benefits of adequate maternal folate intake extends beyond spinal cord development and likely impacts the lifelong DNA integrity of the infant.

What is Folate?

Folate is a water soluble nutrient also known as vitamin B9. B vitamins and folate help support adrenal function, are important in mental health, help maintain a healthy nervous system and are important co factors in many metabolic reactions in our body.

Why is Folate Important in pregnancy?

Folate is essential for the production, repair, and functioning of our DNA, the template according to which our cells grow and function. During pregnancy, we are doing just this- rapidly producing cells and DNA for the developing baby and placenta. Folate is important because it plays a vital role in the normal physical development of the fetus, including the formation of the spinal cord and prevention of neural tube defects. Folate is also essential in the production of red blood cells and the prevention of anemia, especially in the pregnant mother as her blood volume expands and her nutritional needs increase during pregnancy.

How does folate protect infant DNA?

Researchers found that the length of the infants’ telomeres directly correlates to maternal folate levels. Telomeres are the end caps on each of our DNA strands that protect our cells from damage and aging, much like the plastic tips on shoelaces that prevent fraying or damage. This research further supports the importance of adequate folate intake throughout pregnancy.

Where can I get Folate and How Much Should I Take?

It is recommended that all women of child bearing age take a multi-vitamin or prenatal vitamin containing at least 400 micrograms of folate prior to conception. Folate is essential very early in pregnancy- often before women know they are even pregnant yet! Most prenatals have at least 1000 micrograms of folate—but watch out! The type of folate is very important. The best forms are methylfolate or folinic acid. These are more readily absorbed in the body and will ensure that your baby develops as normally as possible. We recommend avoiding folic acid because it can harder for the body to utilize, and can interfere with a process called methylation, the process that makes DNA and the organs and connective tissue of the fetus. It is estimated that approximately 40% of the population has genetic variants that hinder methylation, and folic acid will only make this vulnerability more pronounced—if you can’t methylate well and take non-methylated folic acid that needs to be methylated, it makes things worse!

What are the best Folate-Rich foods?

The best folate rich foods are cooked lentils, spinach, broccoli, cantaloupe and asparagus. Folate is key for a healthy pregnancy and it can be a yummy addition to your diet. Just take the right kind—methylfolate or folinic acid!