For Immediate Release
January 5, 2011

KDHE Office of Communications, 785-296-0461

Folic Acid Awareness Week

January 2-8 is Folic Acid Awareness Week. Folic acid is an essential B-vitamin that your body needs every day to stay healthy. It helps build DNA and your body uses it for cell growth and reproduction.

"For women in their childbearing years, it is particularly important to consume 400 mcg of folic acid daily," said Dr. Jason Eberhart-Phillips, Kansas State Health Officer and Director of Health for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. "It has been shown to reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) in developing babies by up to 70 percent. Since 50 percent of pregnancies are unplanned, it's important to take folic acid every day, even if you’re not planning to get pregnant."

The most common NTDs are Spina Bifida and anencephaly. In Kansas, there were 13 cases of anencephaly and six cases of Spina Bifida reported in 2009.

In 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration started fortifying grain and cereal products with folic acid in order to reduce NTDs. Since that time, the rate of neural tube defects in Kansas has remained relatively stable. While this was a great step in the fight to prevent birth defects, it is not enough to protect all women and their potential children.

Folic acid is the synthetic form of the naturally occurring folate in foods. Folate is found in foods such as leafy green vegetables, beans, liver and some fruit. The synthetic version, folic acid, is found in multivitamins and fortified foods like breakfast cereal, pasta and bread. Folic acid is easier for your body to absorb than folate, plus 50 to 90 percent of food folate is destroyed in cooking.

Folic acid is water soluble, therefore it passes through your body very quickly. Eating a diet rich in folate, or taking a folic acid tablet every day, ensures that you always have it in your system when your body needs it.

"I encourage everyone to make sure they start their new year off right, and make sure they're getting enough folic acid in their diets," said Dr. Eberhart-Phillips.