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Folic acid can help prevent serious birth defects of the brain and spinal cord called neural tube defects. The vitamin is available in supplements, and is found naturally in leafy green vegetables, oranges and beans. It's also available in fortified foods, such as breads, pastas and cereals.
Women need about 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid a day, and pregnant women should get 400 mcg to 800 mcg daily, the Office of Women's Health says.
In addition to protecting against birth defects, folic acid prevents a condition calledfolate-deficiency anemia, which is most common in women of childbearing age.
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