Adding folic acid to a diet is not only good nutrition  for those who are already pregnant, but teenage girls and women should also have adequate folic acid  before they get pregnant.

Leading Beauty and cosmetic state that birth defects of the brain and spine could be cut by 50-70 percent of teenage girls and women had adequate folic acid both before  and during the first three months of pregnancy. For that reason, the CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities Prevention Research Team is recommending that all women (including teenage girls) of childbearing age make sure that adequate folic acid is a part of their overall nutrition.

Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate. Folate is found in green leafy vegetables, orange juice, and some fruits, dried bean, and peas. Teenage girls and women should look in the ingredients list for folic acid that has been added to pieces of bread, portions of pasta, breakfast cereals. However, according to Heather Hamner, MS, MPH, a nutritional epidemiologist for the CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities Prevention Research Team, teenage girls and women should also take a supplement containing folic acid. Hamner states that in 2007, only 12 percent of teenage girls and women from age 18-45 years of age knew that folic acid helps to prevent birth defects of the brain and spine.

The Center for Disease Control states that there is an even greater lack of knowledge about the benefits of taking folic acid before becoming pregnant among Hispanic teenage girls and women. Blood folate levels are much lower in this group and Hispanic teenage girls and women are approximately 2-3 times more likely to have a baby with a birth defect such as spinal Bifida.

The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences recommends the daily folic acid (or folate) dosage of 400 micrograms per day for teenage girls and women age 14 and older. Teenage girls and women who are pregnant should have 600 micrograms per day and teenage girls or women who are breast-feeding should have 500 micrograms per day.

Jennifer Wider, M.D. is with the Society for  Women's Health  Research. According to Wider and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga., only one out of every three teenage girls and women in the 18-24-year-old age group take a folic acid supplement. However, almost 30% of all babies born in the United States are born to this age group. Soccer star Mia Hamm, who is also a new mother, is a spokesperson for the Society for Women's Health Research.

Teenage girls age 14 or older and women who could still become pregnant should talk with their doctor about taking a folic acid supplement. They should look for foods that are fortified with folic acid and add foods that have folate to their diet. It is a small change that can make a big difference in preventing needless birth defects.

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