Many Pregnant Women Get Too Much Folic Acid, New Study Finds

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One piece of nutritional advice unfailingly drummed into the heads of women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant is: Take plenty of folic acid.

In a new study of more than 1,000 pregnant women, however, it was found that one third were getting more folic acid than they needed, as well as too much sodium and iron — and might be neglecting other important nutrients at the same time.

Iron is important to avoid anemia, which can cause complications in pregnancy. (Anemia is one of at least 13 dangerous health problems your hands and feet can reveal.)

Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate, the vitamin also called B9. Its benefits to the body include the prevention of neural tube defects in infants and of cancer and reduced levels of homocysteine — an inflammatory agent linked to cardiovascular disease.

Folate occurs naturally in liver and in such vegetables as edamame, lentils, beans, okra, spinach, and asparagus, one of several superfood that won’t break the bank.

Because research indicates that most people don’t eat enough folate-rich foods to satisfy their daily needs, many countries — including the U.S. — now mandate the addition of folic acid to all refined grain products, including breads, breakfast cereals, energy drinks, protein bars, and white rice. About 75% of pregnant women in America get additional folic acid as well as other nutrients from prenatal supplements.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that women take 400 micrograms of folic acid at least a month before trying to conceive and 600 to 800 micrograms once pregnant. According to the new study, “Almost all pregnant women in this study were at risk of excessive consumption of sodium, and many were at risk of excessive consumption of folic acid and iron.”

At the same time, what the study calls “a significant number of pregnant women” weren’t meeting their recommended daily intake of vitamins D, C, A, B6, K, and E, as well as various minerals.

“Improved dietary guidance to help pregnant women meet dietary recommendations for essential nutrients appears to be warranted,” the study concludes.

Many expectant mothers take herbal supplements that claim to treat a number of maladies from memory problems to fatigue to motion sickness to hearing loss. But some of their ingredients, the FDA has warned can be dangerous for pregnant women.