The importance of folate prior to conception: Go folic before you frolic

A major new campaign led by the Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus (ASBAH) will urge all sexually active women who might become pregnant to take the correct dose of folic acid everyday.

The Go Folic! Initiative will be launched at the House of Commons on Wednesday and aims to improve womens’ folic acid intake and so reduce the incidence of Neural Tube Defects such as spina bifida, which occur in the early weeks of pregnancy.

Every day in the UK, an average of two babies conceived – 900 each year – will go on to develop a Neural Tube Defect (NTD).  Up to 72% of these defects could be prevented if women took folic acid tablets at the right time and dosage. However, at present, only 5.5 per cent of women take folic acid correctly and the incidence of Neural Tube Defects remains stubbornly high, often with tragic consequences.

NTD’s happen within the first 28 days of pregnancy, often before a woman even knows she is pregnant. It is therefore essential that women take the correct dose of folic acid daily – ideally for three months - before they become pregnant. 

The Go Folic! Campaign aims to inform and motivate women to act on this information and impress upon them that a healthy balanced diet is not enough to achieve the required levels of folic acid in their bodies to help prevent NTDs developing in their unborn babies.

Women need to take 400mcg of folic acid daily prior to conception and for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Some women may need a higher dose, particularly if there is a family history of spina bifida or if the mother has diabetes or coeliac disease or if she takes anti-epileptic medicines.

Mr Chris Chandler, Consultant Neurosurgeon at the London Bridge Hospital, and the King's College Hospital fully supports the campaign to encourage women of child bearing age to take folate prior to conception:

Taking folate prior to conception and during the early stages of pregnancy has been shown to significantly reduce the occurrence of all types of spina bifida, which in its severe form represents a serious and lifelong threat to the patient.  'Open' spina bifida always results in some degree of neurological disability, and these children usually require lifelong care from a range of specialists, and often require multiple operations on their brain, spine, bladder, bowel and lower limbs. The care these children require is a huge responsibility to their families, as well as the cost to the NHS.  Prevention by taking folate is without any doubt the optimal means of treatment and is very cost effective.

For more information regarding the campaign please visit the Go Folic! website by clicking here.

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A common name for the large and/or small intestines. Full medical glossary
A condition in which the lining of the small intestine becomes damaged by oversensitivity to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and other cereals. Full medical glossary
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One of the B vitamins, involved in the production of red blood cells. Full medical glossary
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The number of new episodes of a condition arising in a certain group of people over a specified period of time. Full medical glossary

Associated with the nervous system and the brain.

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