Vitamin B12 and Folic acid — why they are essential during pregnancy
It is generally accepted that Vitamin B12 and Folic acid are taken as supplements by many of us. But have you ever thought why they are important and why they are specifically necessary during pregnancy?
Folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin and a member of the B group of vitamins. It is also known as Folate or vitamin B9 and is crucial for the healthy production and maintenance of DNA and RNA. It is essential for the metabolism of amino acids needed for normal tissue growth and healthy cell division.
Deficiency of this vital nutrient may result in megaloblastic anaemia in which the red blood cells become unusually large and reduced in number. The consequence of this is diminished oxygenation of the blood. Folic acid is especially important during pregnancy as it is needed for proper fetal development. Insufficient levels often lead to birth defects, such as spina bifida which can cause partial paralysis, hydrocephalus or anencephaly; a fatal condition in which the brain and spinal cord are severely underdeveloped.
Maintaining adequate levels of folic acid reduces the risk of premature births and low birth weight babies. It helps to increase progesterone levels, and lower the possibility of irregular ovulation making conception easier. Additionally, It is thought to lower the risk of congenital heart defects, promote healthy new cells, and encourage the formation and absorption of essential neurotransmitters.
We do not naturally make folic acid ourselves but depend on our diet to provide us with our needs. Folate is found in leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and pulses.
Like Folic Acid, Vitamin B12 is also a water-soluble nutrient and is fundamental for the preservation of good health. B12 acts in a similar way to folic acid and has similar functions in that it is important for the health, maintenance and proper functioning of the brain and nervous system. It is also important in DNA synthesis and triggers the immune system to help the body fight illness.
Normally stored in the liver, B12 aids folate in regulating the development of healthy erythrocytes, which control our oxygen levels. However, while supplements of folate are recommended, and are indeed essential during pregnancy, correcting the health problems associated with it can, unfortunately, mask deficiencies in B12 levels.
Folate can hide the damaging effects of low vitamin B12 by correcting the megaloblastic anaemia, without improving the neural deterioration that causes severe and permanent nerve damage.
While it is normally stored in large quantities in the human body, women need considerably higher levels during pregnancy. The developing fetus takes all the B12 it needs from the mother, to enable it to develop properly, and to build up its own stores, often depleting her of this essential nutrient.
Only freshly consumed vitamin B12 can cross the placenta, so supplements need to be given throughout the entire pregnancy. It is also secreted in the breast milk, helping to maintain the infant's stores after birth.
Mild shortages are fairly common during pregnancy and are normally not a concern. However, a severe B12 deficiency can have a devastating effect on a pregnant woman and her growing child.
Vitamin B12 also helps to support and sustain the health of the female reproductive system, and low levels are thought to contribute to infertility and miscarriages. It has also been linked to postnatal depression and pre-eclampsia.
Adequate levels of this nutrient help to maintain the myelin sheath in the nervous system, encouraging healthy neurological activity. It plays a vital role in the manufacture and release of melatonin which is needed for healthy sleep, so reducing tiredness and fatigue. This, in turn, results in improved health and overall well-being. A study by Public Health Researchers in the Netherlands suggests that women who have a diet rich in Vitamin B12 during the first trimester, are likely to have babies who cry less.
The study claims to provide evidence that crying behaviour is linked to nutrition. It is thought that excessive crying (more than three hours a day) may be linked to low vitamin B12 in the mother, resulting in babies who do not have a fully developed nervous system. If melatonin is not released properly, it may cause longer crying periods. No link between crying and folate has been found.
Mothers deficient in vitamin B12 who solely breastfeed their babies, are putting their development at risk, and may even unintentionally cause their death. Those who survive are often misdiagnosed as being autistic or intellectually impaired rather than suffering from the results of B12 deficiency, which may result in loss of speech, motor and social skills. Long-term consequences often lead to cardiovascular problems, metabolic disorders and decreased cerebral activity.
Vitamin B12 is found in animal products such as eggs, meat, fish, and dairy foods. It is not generally found in plants but often added as a supplement. Some natural yeast products also contain B12.
Testing the vitamin B12 levels of all women who are thinking about, or are in the early stages of pregnancy should be the standard routine procedure. Levels should be maintained at the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of 2.6 mcg throughout pregnancy and during lactation (normally 2.4 mcg).
Research has shown the importance and the benefits of folate and vitamin B12for both the mother and the developing fetus. Adequate levels of both these essential nutrients prevent problems associated with deficiency, which often has devastating results on the development of the unborn child, and the physical and mental health of the mother.
Infertility problems, spontaneous abortions, stillbirth, or premature births, can easily be prevented. Associated neural tube defects resulting in severe underdevelopment of the brain and nervous system are also avoided. While deficiency causes catastrophic results, large amounts of B12 are seldom dangerous.
It also makes economic sense. The cost of administering regular supplements throughout pregnancy far outweighs the cost of dealing with the physical and emotional traumas resulting from deaths, deformities and ill health associated with folate and B12 deficiency.
Benefits of oral spray supplements
There are several different methods of taking additional nutrients, such as tablets, capsules, liquid form or injections. More recently, oral sprays have become the chosen method for topping up daily nutrients. Using a spray is an easy and effective way to ensure adequate levels of these fundamental nutrients. Spray supplements deliver the vitamins directly under the tongue or through the skin with optimal absorption into the body. The active ingredients are consumed directly into the blood stream, providing a faster, and greater uptake than tablets or capsules, and are far more convenient than liquids or injections.
A pill needs to be digested, and metabolised through the liver or kidney, before it can enter the bloodstream, with only a fraction of the nutrient actually being absorbed. Spray vitamins are not only more effective and natural than pills or capsules, but they also don't need artificial additives to bind them into a solid form, and they are free from stimulants.
Many spray supplements are vegetarian or vegan and don’t contain gluten, eggs or dairy products, making them much safer for those with dietary sensitivities or health concerns. They are also more pleasant to use than swallowing tablets or capsules.