Folic acid deficiency anemia, a lack of red blood cells, is not as common in the United States as it once was. With medical advances and easy access to folic-rich foods, most pregnant women in the U.S. can easily avoid deficiency as long as they informed on how it occurs and how to avoid it. However, although rare, folic acid deficiency still occurs, and if left untreated, can lead to medical issues for both mother and baby.
What Exactly is Folic Acid Deficiency?
Folic acid deficiency, also referred to as folate deficiency, is a term defined as low levels of folic acid in the body.
Women can become deficient, as mentioned earlier, when there is not enough folic acid in their system, which can usually be remedied by eating a variety of foods that contain folic acid and/or by taking folic acid supplements. Since the body doesn’t store folic acid, it has to be restored daily, or the risk of deficiency occurs.
Folic acid deficiency anemia happens when the body doesn’t have enough hemoglobin in each red blood cell, or when the body doesn’t enough red blood cells.
When and How Does Folic Acid Deficiency Start?
Folic acid deficiency can occur at anytime, yet it typically occurs while pregnant. During pregnancy, the folic acid in the mother’s body is first used to support the growing infant, and if there isn’t enough left over, the mother may become deficient.
Other medical conditions associated with folic acid deficiency include Chrohn’s disease, thalassaemia, coeliac disease and sickle cell anemia.
Morning sickness has also been linked to some cases of folic acid deficiency, especially when pregnant women experience daily vomiting.
What Foods Contain Folic Acid?
Doctors and pediatricians should recommend that pregnant and nursing mothers eat plenty of broccoli, spinach, sprouts, green beans, peas, chickpeas, brown rice, liver, kidneys, and potatoes.
For breakfast and snacks, a variety of folic-rich foods include fortified cereal, bananas, oranges, and bread. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one bowl of a folic-fortified cereal will give women the amount of folic acid needed each day.
However, the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) suggests that pregnant women should take extra folic acid each day to accommodate a growing baby. For example, an adult female who isn’t pregnant should get at least 400 mcg of folic acid each day, while a pregnant woman should get 600 mcg. Women who are breastfeeding should get 500 mcg per day.
Most of these foods have a higher level of folic acid if they are steamed in a proper food steamer, thus preserving as many vitamins in the food as possible. A well-balanced diet should already contain all of these essential vitamins, but if you’re recovering from folic acid deficiency, these foods are especially important.
What are the Symptoms of Folic Acid Deficiency Anemia?
Anemia symptoms are due to a reduced amount of oxygen to the body. In turn, many women will experience oxygen deprivation symptoms such as:
- Extreme tiredness
- Feeling faint
- Heart palpitations
- Pale appearance
What’s the Treatment for Folic Acid Deficiency Anemia?
For adults, doctors recommend taking folic acid tablets for up to 4 months until the anemia is corrected. For patients who have sickle cell disease, they may have to take the folic acid tablets indefinitely, and babies born with folic acid deficiency anemia should be carefully checked out by a doctor.
Treatment for babies with this condition could range anywhere from a special diet to treating any defects or injuries caused by folic deficiency, such as physical therapy, medication, and more, depending upon the injury.
Folic Acid Deficiency Risks to Infants
According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, infants who are deficient in folic acid are at a heightened risk for a number of medical complications, including:
- Low birth weight
- Neural tube defects
- Nervous system damage
- Brain damage