Q&A – Spring 2013

I’m planning to become pregnant. Should I be taking folic acid now?

“There’s strong evidence that taking folic acid before and during pregnancy reduces the likelihood of cleft lip/palate, heart abnormalities, and neural tube disorders such as spina bifida. These birth defects typically happen in the first few weeks of pregnancy, before a woman is even aware she’s expecting, so the earlier you begin taking it, the better. Folic acid is found in some foods, but many adult females may still need a supplement.”

How much: Women planning to become pregnant need at least 400 mcg daily if they are low risk, and 4,000 mcg daily if they have a child with a neural tube defect or take epilepsy medication. Most over-the-counter prenatal vitamins have about 800 mcg.

  • Foods with folic acid: Breads, pasta, green leafy vegetables
  • Measuring up: One mcg is 1/1,000th of a milligram

Ellen Wilson, M.D.
Associate Professor, Obstetrics and Gynecology

Can the caffeine in my morning coffee be causing my headaches?

“Caffeine is the oldest stimulant known to man. It may help you stay awake and focused, but it can also exacerbate medical conditions or cause headaches through withdrawal or other effects on the brain. Caffeine facilitates the release of acetylcholine, a chemical compound that prevents drowsiness. It also acts as a diuretic that reduces water content in the blood. This might affect sensory neurons in the thin tissue that surrounds the brain and may be the source of headaches. A small amount of caffeine can be very helpful, but too much can be unhealthy. Get your caffeine fix in small amounts to get the maximum benefit.”

The Caffeine Debate

  • Pros: Prevents drowsiness; helps you stay aroused and alert
  • Cons: Raises heart rate; increases blood pressure; may cause motor or muscle tremors at higher doses

James Bibb, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Psychiatry, Neurology and Neurotherapeutics