Why we tell women to take multivitamins for life
Eating a healthy, varied diet is the best way to obtain vitamins and essential minerals, but not when it comes to folic acid. Folic acid is exceptional because it is absorbed better in its synthetic form than in its food form. This is the only nutrient for which this appears to be true.
However, in this fast-paced society, few people take the time to balance their diets properly. Indicators for poor nutrition are low socioeconomic status, cigarette smoking, race/ethnicity and obesity. With so many fast food restaurants, processed packaged food and eating on the run, many Americans lack nutrient-rich foods in their diet. That’s where multivitamins fit in.
There are several reasons why multivitamins containing 100 percent of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of folic acid can be one of the easiest ways to prevent NTDs. First, research has found that women are resistant to taking folic acid supplements alone, particularly those who are not planning a pregnancy. We also know that folate found in foods is not absorbed as well as the synthetic form: folic acid. And, finally, according to the report from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, even with the mandate from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to add folic acid to cereal grain products, most women do not get the recommended 400 mcg of folic acid from their diets alone.1
Unfortunately, the consumption of multivitamins hasn’t changed very much in the past decades. Most recently, a survey from the Gallup Organization and March of Dimes Foundation indicated that in 2008 only 39 percent of women ages 18-45 reported taking a multivitamin with folic acid every day.2 This percentage is similar to those reported in previous years. We have an opportunity to encourage behavior change among women in their childbearing years.
Pfeiffer, C.M., etc al. (2007). Trends in blood folate and vitamin B-12 concentrations in the United States, 1988–2004. Am J Clin Nutr; 86:718 –27
Gallup Organization and March of Dimes Foundation (2008). Improving Preconception Health: Women’s Knowledge and Use of Folic Acid.