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THINGS TO THINK ABOUT…

If you are… 
A young woman capable of becoming pregnant—even if it’s not planned—or you may start thinking about having a family in the next several years…

Become wiser about…
Your folic acid and iodine intake

 

What is folic acid?

  • Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin that occurs naturally in foods, such as leafy green vegetables.
  • Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate that is found in dietary supplements and added to fortified foods.

What is iodine?

  • Iodine is a trace mineral that occurs naturally in some foods and in the form of iodized salt. 

Why do I need folic acid?

  • Folic acid is, an essential B-vitamin, helps build and maintain healthy cells, which is especially critical for the developing fetus.
  • Folic acid can significantly reduce the number of birth defects of the brain and spine called neural tube defects (NTDs) by up to 70 percent.
  • Adequate folic acid intake for several months before a woman gets pregnant and for the first few months of pregnancy is key to protecting against neural tube defects. Since half of the pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, and since the neural tube is formed in the first few weeks of pregnancy, the defect can occur before a woman even realizes she is pregnant.

Why do I need iodine?

  • Iodine is needed to make thyroid hormones, which are necessary for maintaining normal metabolism in all cells of the body.
  • Iodine deficiency can cause low thyroid function, goiter (thyroid enlargement), and cretinism (severely stunted mental and physical growth).
  • Iodine is particularly important for fetal neurological development. Severe iodine deficiency during pregnancy can result in mental retardation, problems with a baby’s growth, hearing, and speech. Even mild iodine deficiencies have been associated with lower intelligence in children.

Am I getting enough folic acid?

  • The class of drugs known as anti-convulsants, originally developed for people with epilepsy but now sometimes used to help with anxiety, insomnia and other conditions, can severely damage your folic acid status. If you are taking an anti-convulsant, speak with your healthcare professional prior to trying to become pregnant.
  • Research also suggests that many oral birth control pills may deplete folic acid in the body, so women who are taking birth control may want to consider taking a multivitamin with 400 mcg folic acid or a supplemental B vitamin complex to fill those gaps.
  • Women who have taken birth control for a prolonged period of time but have stopped taking oral birth control as they’re trying to conceive may need a bit more time to rebuild their folic acid status.

Am I getting enough iodine?

  • People who avoid dairy, seafood, processed food, and iodized salt may become deficient.
  • Although severe iodine deficiencies are now uncommon in Western societies, the U.S. population has shown a trend of significantly decreasing iodine intake in recent decades. If this trend continues, iodine deficiency diseases may become more common.

Where can I get folate or folic acid?

  • Folate can be found in green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, etc.
  • A folic acid mandatory food fortification program began in 1998, which enriched breads, cereals, flours, corn meals, pastas, and rice with extra folic acid.
  • The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, which makes health recommendations for consumers, urges women capable of becoming pregnant to consume 400 mcg of folic acid daily from supplements, fortified foods, or both—in addition to consuming food folate from a varied diet. They added that, when it comes to protecting against neural tube birth defects, the evidence for a protective effect from supplements containing folic acid is much stronger than the evidence for food folate.
  • Speak with your healthcare professional about what may be right for you.

Where can I get iodine?

  • Since the body does not make iodine, it relies on the diet to have enough iodine.
  • Iodine can be found primarily in iodized salt, but it can also be found in dairy foods, such as milk, seafood and some processed food.
  • The American Thyroid Association recommends that all pregnant women take prenatal vitamins which contain 150 micrograms (mcg) of iodine daily. 
  • Speak with your healthcare professional about what may be right for you.

Fast facts:

  • There are nearly 60 million women in the U.S. who are of childbearing age.
  • Nearly half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned.
  • In the U.S., approximately 4,000 pregnancies are affected by neural tube defects (NTDs) each year and worldwide these birth defects affect 300,000 or more pregnancies annually.
  • The average non-pregnant Caucasian woman gets only 128 mcg per day of folic acid from fortified food, according to a study published in the May 2007 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
  • Since the government began its mandatory food fortification program in 1998 and public/private partnerships have been urging women to take a multivitamin with folic acid, there has been a 27 percent decline in the number of neural tube defects in the United States.
  • The U.S. is generally an iodine sufficient area, but recent data indicates that women of child bearing age may be at risk for iodine deficiency. Many other parts of the world are considered iodine deficient. Approximately 40 percent of the world’s population remains at risk for iodine deficiency.
  • Only about half of the prenatal vitamins in the U.S. contain iodine.