Folic acid is a B vitamin. It helps the body make healthy new cells, meaning it is important for cell growth and metabolism. “Folic acid” and “folate” mean the same thing. They have the same effects. Folic acid is a man-made form of folate and is in supplements and added to foods. Folate is found naturally in certain foods. Studies show that many people in the U.S. don’t get enough folic acid in their diets.
Why do people take folic acid?
All people need folic acid. Folic acid supplements are standard for pregnant women and women who plan to become pregnant. Folic acid reduces the risk for birth defects of a baby’s brain and spine — spina bifida and anencephaly (which is when most or all of the brain does not develop; Babies with this problem die before or shortly after birth). Folic acid may also lower the risk of preeclampsia and early labor. Many doctors recommend that any woman of childbearing age take either a multivitamin or a folic acid supplement. Folic acid can protect against birth defects that may form before a woman knows she is even pregnant.
Folic acid is used to treat deficiencies, which can cause certain types of anemia and other problems. Folate deficiencies are more common in people who have digestive problems, kidney or liver disease, or who abuse alcohol. Folic acid supplements have been studied as treatments for many other conditions like for heart health and preventing cell changes that may lead to cancer however, the results of these studies have been inconclusive.
How much folic acid should you take?
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) includes the folic acid you get from both the food you eat and any supplements you take.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamins reflects how much of each vitamin most people should get each day. The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine Recommended Intakes for Individuals – Daily Reference Intakes (DRIs) for folate:
- 0 – 6 months: 65 mcg/day*
- 7 – 12 months: 80 mcg/day*
*For infants from birth to 12 months, the Food and Nutrition Board established an Acceptable Intake (AI) for folate that is equivalent to the mean intake of folate in healthy, breastfed infants in the United States.
- 1 – 3 years: 150 mcg/day
- 4 – 8 years: 200 mcg/day
- 9 – 13 years: 300 mcg/day
Adolescents and Adults
- Males age 14 and older: 400 mcg/day
- Females age 14 and older: 400 mcg/day
- Pregnant teens 14-18 years: 600 mcg/day
- Pregnant females 19 and older: 500 mcg/day
- Breastfeeding females 14-18 years: 600 mcg/day
- Breastfeeding females 19 and older: 500 mcg/day
Which Foods have Folate and Folic Acid? These foods below are good sources:
- Fortified breakfast cereal
- Enriched whole wheat products like breads
Meat and Beans
- Beans, peas, lentils
- Sunflower seeds
Vegetables are an excellent source of folic acid!
- Asparagus, spinach, and broccoli
- Leafy green vegetables
- Cantaloupes and other melons
- Tropical fruits like mango