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Folate (folic acid) is a B-vitamin that is necessary for normal development of the nervous system in a first trimester fetus in the critical time right after conception. This fact has been established beyond doubt in the last few years. Supplementation of potential mothers' diets with 0.4 milligrams (mg) of folate a day prevents up to 85% of serious malfomations of the nervous system, known as neural tube defects.
The nervous system of a fetus forms first as a flat plate of tissue along the back. This plate curls up into a tube and ultimately "zips up," to form a completely tubular structure. This hollow tube-like structure of the brain and spinal cord is preserved in the adult brain as the fluid-filled ventricular spaces within the brain and a tiny central canal that runs down the center of the spinal cord.
Neural tube defects
The recommendation is that all sexually active women of childbearing age, whether they plan to become pregnant or not, should take 0.4 mg of folate a day. The reasoning behind this recommendation is that
Recommendations are modified for women who have already had a child with a neural tube defect:
Dietary sources of folate include
However, prospective mothers should not rely on diet alone, and should take folate supplementation.