Folic Acid

A recent post from Echidne of the Snakes discussed a study on women’s fertility.  She expressed annoyance at the number of women’s health articles warning about the dire consequences of letting your biological clock tick too long and ending up infertile, and how you never seem to see similar articles about men, even though their fertility also decreases with age.

Although a salient point, I didn’t pay much attention to the post, never having been a big reader of women’s health articles.  Anyway, there are bigger bones to pick on that topic (getting a great beach body isn’t a health issue, people).

But recently I took an online health survey provided by Jordan’s work, the sort that gives you a small discount on your health insurance based, I guess, on the assumption that you are not lying.  Most of the questions were the diet-exercise-and-family-history things you’d expect, but I was puzzled when it asked me if I was taking folic acid supplements.  In the first place, it seemed presumptuous that the survey would punish me for not taking supplements when I could be getting it from vegetables the way nature intended, but mostly I couldn’t figure out why the survey would single out that particular one out of all the essential vitamins and minerals.  I forget whether there was a separate question about taking multivitamins; it’s odd either way.  For the record, regular multivitamins contain folic acid.

Upon completing the survey, I discovered that I had, indeed, been penalized for not taking folic acid, and I learned why.  Folic acid is important to the first stages of fetal development.  If I was pregnant, I would want to be taking it.  I hadn’t known that, lacking a reason to buff up on my pregnancy knowledge.  Setting aside the detail that this affects the baby’s health, not my health, it’s a good recommendation for someone trying to get pregnant.

Of course, whatever my fortune said, I’m not pregnant.  Nor am I trying to get pregnant.  I’m actively avoiding getting pregnant.  I’m taking birth control.  The odds that I am pregnant are very, very low, low enough that I believe I should be granted the luxury of not worrying about it.  Should I have to keep in top athletic shape in case I happen to need to run for my life?  Should I carry around an AED in case I happen to have a heart attack?  Come to think of it, should I be forbidden from taking the pill because, if I did get pregnant, it could be harmful to the baby?

Not according to that survey.  Indeed, its other evaluations were reasonable and I measured up well, even though I’m no paragon of health.  But apparently if you’re an 18-to-30-year-old female, it’s your job to constantly be prepared to get pregnant at any moment.  I find that irksome.  Don’t get me wrong–getting pregnant would not be the end of the world or anything, and if that happened, I would dutifully take folic acid except that I already get it from multivitamins, so it’s moot.  But there’s an underlying implication there that all young women are latent baby factories.

Pregnancy is treated as a disproportionately important issue in women’s health, even among women who are trying to avoid getting pregnant.  It’s one of those subtle problems that you could never take steps to correct, but remains as one of those reminders that women still get treated differently.

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Pictures from Wikimedia Commons.

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