New Delhi, (6/12/2018): Statistics indicate that fewer than one in three pregnant women in India have access to iron and folic acid supplements, according to NFHS-IV. This is even after the percentage of women consuming these supplements during pregnancy doubled between 2005/06 and 2015/16, from 15% to 30%. There is a need to generate awareness about the importance of folic acid supplementation before and during pregnancy.
Folic acid is needed for the normal development of the baby. It can help prevent major birth problems called neural tube defects or NTDs; women need to take folic acid every day not only starting in the first trimester but even before they become pregnant to help prevent NTDs.
Speaking about this, Padma Shri Awardee, Dr KK Aggarwal, President, HCFI, said, “December is the month of marriages in India. This is also a time when women should ensure they prepare themselves physically for the later stages, pregnancy, in particular. After marriage one invariably conceives at some point. Women should therefore start taking folic acid supplementation even before marriage for about 2 years until conception. Every woman who could become pregnant should get 400 micro grams of synthetic folic acid every day. The B vitamin folic acid helps prevent birth defects. If a woman has enough folic acid in her body before and while she is pregnant, her baby is less likely to have a major birth defect of the brain or spine. Folic acid is used by the body to make new cells. These birth defects of the brain and spine happen in the first few weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman finds out that she is pregnant. One cannot get all the folic acid and other vitamins needed from the food as folic acid is destroyed in Indian cooking.”
Some general symptoms of folic acid deficiency include headache, nausea, irritability, fatigue, acne, sore tongue, and cracks at the corner of the mouth. At an advanced stage it can also cause GI problems.
Adding further, Dr Aggarwal, who is also the Group Editor-in-Chief of IJCP, said, “For women who are unable to conceive, a thyroid test is also recommended. An under active thyroid, known as hypothyroidism, can reduce the chances of conception. It is therefore important for women diagnosed with this condition to get treated before trying to conceive. They can also obtain folate vitamin in its natural form from leafy greens and other sources.”
Some tips from HCFI
- Pregnant women should include as many food categories rich in folic acid as possible in their diet, apart from supplementation.
- Fruit and vegetables should be eaten raw whenever possible as cooking destroys folic acid.
- Avoid alcohol as it leads to folic acid deficiency
- Pregnant women have higher requirements and therefore take the doses of this essential vitamin as advised by the doctor/dietician/nurse.
- Increase the use of wheat flour and soya flour in baking and food preparation