Could Your Folic Acid Supplement Be Putting You At Increased Risk Of Gestational Diabetes?

Women with no history and few obvious risk factors for diabetes can develop a form of the disease during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes affects as many as 9.2 percent of pregnant women in the U.S., putting them at higher risk of delivering large babies.

Medical professionals can't always predict which patients are likely to develop gestational diabetes. If you are older than 25, a race other than white, or overweight, your odds may be higher. And now there's another potential risk factor that researchers have discovered: Taking folic acid during your first trimester of pregnancy.

Folic acid? Isn't that the B vitamin that you are supposed to supplement with to prevent birth defects like spina bifida? Yes; pregnant women and those trying to become pregnant are advised to take a supplement with at least 400 mcg of folic acid. But Chinese researchers have found a correlation between folic acid supplements and increased gestational diabetes risk.

The study looked at 1,938 pregnant women divided into groups who had never taken any vitamin supplements and who used folic acid supplements. The women in the group who took supplements in the first trimester had a higher chance of getting gestational diabetes.

While more research needs to be done to replicate the results and make sure there are no other factors causing the correlation, the idea that an important supplement could cause a disease with complications during pregnancy could be worrisome to women. What can you do?

First, don't stop making sure you get plenty of folic acid. Here's how to do it:

Eat a diet rich in natural sources of folate.

This is the natural form of folic acid, also known as vitamin B9. You can find folate in these foods:

  • Dark, leafy greens like spinach and collard greens
  • Broccoli
  • Asparagus
  • Fruits, especially citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit
  • Beans
  • Avocados

Talk to your doctor about the right amount to take in supplements.

For many years, the medical advice around folic acid has been, "More is better!" That has resulted in some supplements having double or triple the amount recommended for pregnant women. Use a supplement recommended by your obgyn and don't fall into the trap of thinking you should take more than you need.

Check the amount of folic acid that is added to the foods you eat.

To prevent birth defects, many manufacturers of grain products have added extra folic acid. Breads and cereals often have a full day's RDA in one serving. Again, before you decide to cut out foods from your diet, talk to your doctor about the right amount of folic acid you should be getting. 

If you do develop gestational diabetes, it can be controlled through diet, exercise and, in more severe cases, medication. Your doctor can test you to find out if you have it, and, if you test positive, they can walk you through the best lifestyle choices you can make for you and your baby.

For any questions regarding folic acid or gestational diabetes, contact a trained professional from a company like Florham Park OB/GYN Dr. Donald Chervenak MD.