If you're pregnant or even just planning to get pregnant, one of the essential nutrients you should be stocking up on is folate, or vitamin B9, a water-soluble B vitamin your body needs to build genetic material (including DNA) and grow and divide cells. Folate also helps in preventing neural tube defects in the baby such as anencephaly, spina bifida, and other birth defects affecting the brain, spine and spinal cord.
But aside from the already crucial role of folic acid (folate in synthetic form) in the development of the fetus, folate also helps improve insulin sensitivity that promotes metabolic changes. In fact researchers have now found that folate helps lowers the risk of obesity for babies.
A new study published in theJAMA Pediatrics found that when an expectant mom has sufficient folic acid supply during her pregnancy, it can help reduce the child's risk for obesity and the illnesses related to it, and it's even more beneficial for children of obese mothers. The study was done as part of the Boston Birth Cohort, where the demographic consists of predominately low-income, minority population with a high prevalence of maternal and child obesity.
Researchers followed more than 1,500 pairs of mother-and-child from delivery up until the child is 9 years old, and measured the mother’s folic acid levels in her blood at the time of birth. By keeping other factors constant, they found that moms who had the lowest folic acid levels at the time of birth have a 45-percent chance of their child being obese compared to mothers who had sufficient folate in their system. In children of obese mothers, the risk for obesity was more than tripled.
"Maternal nutrition during pregnancy can have long-lasting effects on child health, as well as the health of a mother after pregnancy," the study's senior investigator, Xiaobin Wang, M.D., M.P.H., Sc.D., professor in children’s health and director of the Center on the Early Life Origins of Disease at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH), said in a statement.
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development senior investigator and a study co-author Cuilin Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., adds, "Folate is well-known for preventing brain and spinal cord defects in a developing fetus, but its effects on metabolic disorders, such as diabetes and obesity, is less understood. This study uncovers what may be an additional benefit of folate and identifies a possible strategy for reducing childhood obesity."
Dr. Wang tells The New York Times that it’s better to have one’s folic acid levels checked to be certain and get a more tailored recommendations based on the mother’s weight. After all, studies have shown that too much synthetic folate in the body also has adverse effects. That's also probably why dieticians stand by their recommendations that food is still the best way to get the nutrients your body needs.
Folate is abundant in dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and mustard greens; asparagus; Brussels sprouts; fruit and fruit juices, especially oranges and orange juice; peanuts; black-eyed peas; and kidney beans. It's also present in whole-grain food. Some bread, cereals, rice and pasta also are enriched with folate. Your doctor can also prescribe you a folic acid supplement if necessary.