Folic acid, or folate, is one of the most recommended nutritional supplements during pregnancy. Some even call a pregnancy superhero. These is because research has shown it may help prevent serious birth defects of the brain and spinal cord, including spina bifida. According to recent research, folic acid also enhance fetal brain development lower long-term risk of mental health conditions including psychosis.
Psychosis is mental condition that causes one to lose touch with reality. It is characterized with paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions. It usually starts around young adulthood. People with psychosis are extremely difficult to live with, and the condition can impact those around the person who has it.
A research team from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) conducted a study that compared the brains of school-age youths in periods before and after folate fortification.
The folate fortification mandate (not an official title) is a requirement by the U.S Food and Drug Administration that folic acid be added to enriched grain products such as bread, pasta, rice, and cereal.
In the 1980s, low folate levels in pregnant women were associated with higher risk of serious and even fatal neural disorders. This led to a 1996 decision to fortify grains with folic acid, and a recommendation that women of childbearing age take a daily supplement containing 400mcg (micrograms) of folic acid. These two moves together led to a significant drop in neural tube defects.
However, as half the pregnancies in the U.S are unplanned, neural tube defects may occur before a woman even knows she’s pregnant. Which is the more reason women of childbearing age should take a daily folic acid supplement.
For the recent study, the researchers reviewed 1400 MRIs brain scans of children between the ages of 2 and 18. The children were born before and after the folic acid fortification mandate.
The researchers found that children born after fortification went into effect had significantly thicker tissue than children born prior. Further, fortification appeared to delay thinning of the cortex, something associated with with higher intelligence.
Nay, delayed thinning of the cortex (due to folate consumption fortification) was associated with lower odds of developing mental disorders such as psychosis.
Folic acid, or folate, is a B vitamin. The body cannot make it on its own and therefore it must be obtained through the diet. However, for pregnant women, supplementation is not just recommended but urged.
Supplementation should start as soon as possible after one finds out they’re pregnant. In fact, women are urged to take start taking folic acid supplements at least one month before getting pregnant.
The typical recommended dose is 400mcg. Prenatal multivitamin supplements typically contain folic acid in the recommended dose.