Six Reasons Why Folic Acid Is So Important

January is Birth Defects Prevention Month, but any month is the right time for you to take action to prevent birth defects.  Whether or not you are planning a pregnancy, now is the time to take folic acid.

Here are six reasons why this B-vitamin is so important to every woman’s health:

- Folic acid, a B-vitamin, is good for all women, even if they don’t plan on getting pregnant. Approximately 45 percent of births in California are unplanned, and serious birth defects of the brain or spinal cord called neural tube defects (NTDs) occur before many women know that they are pregnant and begin prenatal care. These NTDs are the most common birth defect in California. Taking folic acid before you become pregnant lowers your chances of having a baby with serious birth defects of the brain or spinal cord.

- Taking 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day before you get pregnant and during the first months of pregnancy has been shown to reduce the risk of some severe birth defects by 50-70 percent.

- It may also lower your chances of having a baby with birth defects of the heart, lip or mouth.

- Some women, such as Latinas, have higher rates of the severe birth defects that may be prevented with folic acid. Latinas have a lower consumption of folic acid than non-Hispanic women.

- You need folic acid for the growth and repair of every cell in your body.

- Since hair, skin, and nails grow every day, folic acid is really important.

There are two easy and inexpensive ways to get the 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid your body needs every day:

Take a vitamin pill that has all of the folic acid you need every day. Folic acid supplements can be purchased without a prescription for around $3 for a 90-day supply.

Eat one serving of a cereal that has all the folic acid you need every day. Many cereals do not have enough folic acid, so it is important to read the nutrition label on the box. How do you do that?
  1. Find the nutrition label on the side of a cereal box or a vitamin bottle.
  2. Look for the words “folic acid” or “folate” in the left column.
  3. Look for the number “100%” in the right column. It is important that the number say “100%” of your “daily value” for “folic acid” or “folate.”
To learn more about folic acid:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide more questions and answers about folic acid. See

Every woman should talk to her doctor before getting pregnant. Discuss any family history of birth defects. Find information at , or   

Content provided by the California Department of Public Health