Why Black Women Need More Folic Acid
(BlackDoctor.org) — Several studies have explored the potential for using folic acid to prevent certain diseases. Folic acid is a man-made form of the B vitamin folate, and helps the body to produce DNA and red blood cells. Individuals can get folate from variety of different foods such as green leafy vegetables, peas, beans, orange juice, whole grains, liver, bananas and peanuts.
The recommended amount of folic acid for adults is 400 micrograms a day. Technically, it is possible to get the recommended daily amount of folate through diet alone. The reality however, is that most individuals do not consume the necessary amount of fruits and vegetables each day in order to do so. That is why it is a good idea to also take a supplement containing 100% of the recommended daily amount of folic acid.
Why It’s So Important For Women
A Healthier Pregnancy: Getting enough folic acid may be most important for women of childbearing age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), by taking folic acid supplements, women who are pregnant can reduce their baby’s risk of developing certain birth defects called neural tube defects (NTDs) by 50% – 70%.
Spina bifida and anencephaly are the two most common types of NTDs. The CDC reports that these NTDs affect approximately 3,000 fetuses each year in the United States. Spina bifida is a condition in which the vertebral column does not completely close, leaving the spinal cord partially exposed. With anencephaly, the skull bone does not close properly and part of the brain is left exposed or is missing. Infants born with anencephaly usually die during or right after birth. Most NTDs will occur in the first several weeks of fetal development, before many women are even aware that they are pregnant, so it is very important for women to begin taking folic acid supplements before becoming pregnant so that the folic acid will already be in their system if a pregnancy occurs. After becoming pregnant, women are advised to increase their folic acid intake from 400 micrograms to 600 micrograms a day and to continue this level through the duration of the pregnancy.
A Healthier Woman: In addition to guarding against birth defects, several studies have indicated that folic acid may play a role in reducing an individual’s risk of developing certain diseases. One study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute suggests that women who receive sufficient levels of folic acid and vitamin B6 may experience a reduced risk of developing breast cancer. This is particularly significant for Black women since, according to the National Cancer Institute, breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer for this group. The study also indicates that this may be especially true for women who have at least one alcoholic beverage a day due to the fact that alcohol inhibits the body’s ability to use folic acid properly.
Heart Health: An Additional Folic Acid Benefit?
Research findings vary on whether folic acid holds any benefit for individuals who may be at risk for developing coronary diseases. According to the American Heart Association, coronary diseases are among the top killers of African Americans. Folic acid is believed to help break down accumulations of an amino acid called homocysteine. Homocysteine buildup in the blood can lead to increased risks of coronary diseases such as heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, atherosclerosis, and stroke. Still, as of yet, no study has shown a conclusive link between folic acid and decreased risks of coronary disease.
Since studies regarding the potential benefits of folic acid remain inconclusive, health officials do not officially advocate taking folic acid supplements as a method for preventing disease. However, in order to promote overall health, individuals are still advised to obtain the recommended amount of 400 micrograms of folic acid each day. Those who are unable to obtain the proper amount through diet alone are encouraged to take a multivitamin or a folic acid supplement.