A new study reveals another important reason for pregnant mothers to make sure they get enough folic acid in their diet.
Early Show Medical Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay explains that folic acid is essential for pregnant women and would-be mothers. It is a water-soluble B vitamin found in a variety of foods. Previous studies have shown that up to 70 percent of birth defects of the brain and spine and many cases of Down's syndrome can be prevented by maintaining adequate folic acid levels before and during pregnancy.
Senay says researchers in Sweden found that women who had a folic acid deficiency had a 50 percent increase in risk of having an early miscarriage.
She says the best way to get enough folic acid is to eat a variety of the natural foods that contains it. The government tried to make sure people got enough folic acid by mandating its presence in certain foods five years ago.
Liver, asparagus, beans, orange juice and eggs are all good sources for folic acid. Pasta, cereal and bread are also enriched in folic acid. Senay recommends checking food labels to see if they are fortified.
The doctor also says women who aren't sure whether they're getting enough should talk to their doctors about taking a 400 microgram supplement every day.
It's not just women of childbearing age who need adequate folic acid. Studies show it can lower levels of amino acid homocysteine in the blood, which may help decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Senay says it may reduce the risk of some cancers and dementia. Recent research provides evidence that folic acid may also help prevent brain degeneration that causes Alzheimer's disease.
The good news is that studies suggest that folic acid levels in the population are rising since folic acid fortification was first implemented.
Women can find everything they need to know about pregnancy and newborn health online at www.marchofdimes.com. The Web site features up-to-date and credible content about preconception and folic acid, pregnancy and nutrition, prenatal testing, exercise, pregnancy complications, bereavement and loss and more. People can call 1-888-MODIMES (1-888-663-4637) or e-mail email@example.com to get free, confidential and personal answers to their most pressing pregnancy-related questions from trained health information specialists.