What is folic acid and why does it matter in pregnancy?

If you are planning to become pregnant, nutrients are particularly important for healthy fertility. Folic acid, a B vitamin also known as folate, can help prevent certain types of birth defects such as neural tube defects (NTDs). The neural tube is the part of the embryo that folds to become a healthy spinal cord, and folic acid is needed for this transition.

You can supplement folate with folate-rich foods, foods fortified with folic acid, and/or a folic acid supplement. Foods rich in folate include spinach and other leafy greens, legumes, rice, avocado, and fruit; fortified foods include those made with enriched flour. Flour has been fortified with folic acid in Australia since 2009 to help prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida.

It is estimated that 70% of neural tube birth defects can be prevented by increasing folate to 0.5 mg/day at least one month before conception and during the first three months of pregnancy. Given that the neural tube closes in the fourth week after conception before many women know they are pregnant, and that it may take 20 weeks of supplementation to reach optimal levels, supplementing earlier than this may be a good idea.

Folic acid in fruits and vegetables is in its active folate form. Until recently, all folic acid supplements were in an inactive form. While the terms folic acid and folate are used interchangeably, folate is the active form that is ready for the body to use, while folic acid needs to be converted to the active form once consumed. Some women have a genetic variation (in the MTHFR gene) that makes it difficult for them to convert folic acid to its active form. 5-methyltetrahydrofolate is a newer, active form of folic acid used in some  prenatal vitamins  . It is biologically active when consumed so the body doesn’t need to convert it first.

Quatrefolic® is a high-quality form of 5-methyltetrahydrofolate that is structurally analogous to the reduced and active form of folic acid. Therefore, a supplement containing this ingredient is more likely to provide adequate amounts of folate that can be utilised appropriately. This helps ensure that new mums can experience folate’s benefits in preparation for, and during pregnancy.


References available on request

← Older Post Newer Post →