Folic Acid Study Shows Benefits for Toddlers Too

Spinach and citrus salad – high in folic acid. Photo by Sue Crocker

While we all have heard that folic acid is important for pregnant women and can help prevent birth defects. We’ve long known that folic acid deficiencies are linked to neural tube defects in infants and newborns. Now however a new study coming out of Norway shows additional reasons to make sure you are taking folic acid supplements if you are of child-bearing age.

The survey conducted by researchers in Norway looked at data from nearly 40,000 women in Norway. Those who had toddlers at age 3 with relatively severe speech delays were much more likely to have neglected folic acid prior to conception and within the first three months of pregnancy. Women who had taken adequate levels of folic acid had much fewer instances of children with speech and language delays at 3 years of age.

While folic acid is certainly not the only factor for speech and language development, it is telling to me that folic acid effects the growth of neurons. So it makes sense that there would be other side-effects from a lack of folic acid in children that is only seen later in life. In the US and Canada many breads and cereals are fortified with extra folic acid, however, doctors still often recommend that women “of childbearing age” take the recommended amount of folic acid each day, 400 micrograms.

If a woman is taking a daily supplement specially formatted for women, it is likely to include the appropriate amount of folic acid already. Many fruits and vegetables are high is folate/folic acid as well however, and women can add these to their diets to help ensure an adequate amount.

Dark green, leafy vegetables are a fabulous source of folic acid. Some fruits are high in folic acid as well including strawberries, kiwi, honeydew, mandarin, papaya, and tangerines. Wheat germ, asparagus and broccoli plants are also great additions to any diet.

To me this is one of the things that is tricky to me because folic acid is most important before you even know you are pregnant. I actually stayed on prenatal level vitamins after pregnancy while I was breastfeeding to help make sure my folic acid levels would be good. And of course, we try to eat well and use plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables that will help ensure a good level of nourishment for everyone in the family – even we if we don’t know they are coming yet.

What do you think of this study highlighting the long-term ramifications of proper nutrition during pregnancy? Did your doctor encourage you to begin taking folic acid supplements before you conceived? Is it something you thought about?

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