I’ve had two babies, and I’m very lucky to have had two healthy babies. My pregnancies were planned, so taking folic acid was a daily routine for me, as I’d read that when planning a family it’s wise and recommended to take folic acid, as it prevents neural tube defects such as spina bifida and hydrocephalus.
What I genuinely didn’t know was, that the day you take a pregnancy test, it’s probably already too late to prevent neural tube defects. If a NTD is going to develop, then it will already have happened by the time that little blue line appears.
Which is why SafeFood is launching its new campaign, The Facts About Folic. I recently attended the launch, and I have to say, my eyes were opened to the importance of the fact that every sexually active woman, of every age, whether they are planning a pregnancy or not, should be taking folic acid every day as a regular vitamin. Currently in Northern Ireland on average between 12 and 18 babies are born with NTDs like Spina Bifida every year. Taking folic acid daily as a supplement could potentially prevent 70% of these conditions – that could be up to 12 fewer babies affected every year.
So what did I learn that I want others to know?
- To get the same amount of folic acid from food as you get from the 400mg tablet form you’d have to eat more than 2 heads of broccoli a day. Not florets. Heads.
- Professor Jim Dornan (Chair of Health and Life Sciences at Ulster University) used the helpful metaphor that the spine is an important ‘power cable’ that needs insulation, which forms very early in foetal development, in the first two weeks, before a woman even misses her period.
- Folic acid helps this insulation to close over and protect the spinal cord. It also helps the body to build amino acids and DNA.
- 75% of women who take folic acid, take it too late.
- If you’re diabetic or overweight, take double the dose.
- There have been 600 cases of neural birth defects in the island of Ireland in the last ten years and at least 400 could have been prevented.
We also heard from Marie McGonnell from Shine NI, a charity covering all of the UK, which was established 1966 to provide support, information and advice to families dealing with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus. They currently have over 900 families on their books.
Dr Cliodhna Foley Nolan, Director of Human Health and Nutrition, explained that neural tube defects in Ireland are higher than the rest of Europe. Apparently we have a genetic predisposition to having NTD’s. Research has shown that this is similar to the East coast of the USA, most likely a reflection of early Irish migration.
90% of women have heard of folic acid.
2/3 know what it prevents.
80% take it when pregnant.
But only 25% of that 80% take it before pregnancy.
HALF of all pregnancies are unplanned.
Professor Dornan really struck a chord with me when he said; “So much of what we look at every day we can’t prevent. But this is preventable. Take it every day. It’s as simple as that.”
So come on, ladies – take it every day.