Giving your body the nutrition it needs is an important part of being able to conceive and have a healthy baby. One of the most critical nutrients before and during pregnancy is folic acid, which is essential both for your fertility and your baby’s development.
Folic Acid Is a Necessary Vitamin
While you’re probably more familiar with the importance of vitamins C and D, folic acid is also a necessary vitamin. Folic acid is one of the B vitamins (vitamin B9) included in B complex vitamin tablets and multivitamins, and is the synthetic form of folate, also a type of vitamin B9.
Folate occurs naturally in foods like beans and broccoli, but it can be challenging to get enough folate to support a pregnancy through diet alone. And the type of folate that occurs naturally in foods doesn’t hold up very well to light and heat, so it’s not very useful for making pills or fortifying foods. Folic acid, on the other hand, is a more stable form of vitamin B9 that retains its integrity even when cooked. That’s the form you’ll see in foods like pasta and bread, and also what you’ll find in your prenatal vitamins.
Folic Acid Helps Your Body Make New Cells
Folic acid is an important part of the process that allows you to replace old skin cells with new ones, grow longer hair and maintain healthy nails. It also helps your body make the new cells that are necessary for fertility. Sperm cells, egg cells, and the cells that make up the placenta all require folic acid for healthy reproduction.
Folic acid’s role in cell reproduction is so vital that many foods are now fortified with folic acid to help people get the amount they need. However, since it’s unlikely you’ll get enough from our diet, have a conversation with your doctor about how much folic acid you should be supplementing.
Folic Acid and Female Fertility
Research has shown that women taking a folic acid supplement are more likely to have regular menstrual cycles and less likely to experience cycles that are too short–both of which are important factors for fertility. One study also found that women undergoing fertility treatments who took more supplemental folic acid (but not over 1200 micrograms per day) had higher antral follicle counts (greater ovarian reserve) than those who consumed less folic acid.
It’s important to note that folic acid is even more important if you carry a common mutation of a gene called MTHFR, which makes you less sensitive to the hormones needed for your ovaries to function properly. It also causes your body to accumulate higher levels of an amino acid called homocysteine in your blood, which is linked to a greater risk of miscarriage. Fortunately, folic acid helps your body break down homocysteine, so taking a supplement can help your fertility.
Folic Acid and Male Fertility
While the connection hasn’t been studied as much as with women, it turns out that folic acid also has an effect on male fertility. Some studies have found that both the number and quality of sperm men produced increased after taking folic acid supplements.
Because of the lack of research, it’s possible that the effects of folic acid on male fertility are even greater. For example, it’s possible that the amount of folic acid men consume may impact potential birth defects, along with embryonic and placenta development. More research needs to be conducted, but for now, you should speak to your doctor about whether you need a folic acid supplement.
Folic Acid and Pregnancy
Getting enough folic acid during pregnancy is critical. Certain structures, like your baby’s neural tubes, develop so early in pregnancy that you may not even be aware that you’re pregnant. Without adequate levels of folic acid, these structures may not develop properly, leading to serious birth defects like spina bifida and anencephaly.
As a result, the CDC recommends that all women who have reached reproductive age take 400 mcg of folic acid every day. If you’re actively trying to become pregnant, it’s important to take a daily folic acid supplement and eat lots of foods containing folate for at least a month before trying to conceive. And if you have previously had a baby with a neural tube defect, talk to your doctor about how much folic acid you should take.
At RISE Fertility, we create a custom fertility plan for each of our patients that takes your own unique biology and other factors into account. As part of your comprehensive care plan, you can rest assured we’ll discuss the optimal amount of folic acid you need. Call us and schedule a consult today.
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