It has long been known that taking folic acid supplements prior to pregnancy can prevent spina bifida and other birth defects of the brain, spine, or spinal cord. However, a recent study from Queen Mary University of London shows that only 1 in 3 women have taken folic acid supplements before becoming pregnant.
The study not only showed a decrease in the number of women taking the supplement in recent years (35% of women in 1999-2001 versus 31% in 2011-2012), but also showed strong variations between ethnic groups (35% of Caucasian women reported taking the supplements compared to 17% of Afro-Caribbean women, 20% of South Asian women, and 25% of East Asian women).
The study also showed an increase in the proportion of women who started taking folic acid supplements only after discovering they were pregnant (from 45% to 62%). Unfortunately the preventative benefits of folic acid are only effective if the supplements are taken before pregnancy.
While the U.S. has introduced a mandatory folic fortification into foods such as cereal, bread, and pasta, it is still recommended that women attempting to get pregnant seek out additional supplementation. If you are a woman who is actively trying to become pregnant, consider taking a prenatal vitamin that includes folic acid to prevent potential miscarriages or serious birth defects that could lead to pregnancy termination.