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Folic Acid: What You Need to Know

Folic Acid: What You Need to Know


Folic acid plays a vital role in the health of every individual, as it is needed to form red blood cells and produce DNA. While everyone should consume folic acid on a daily basis, it is especially important for women who could become pregnant.

What Is Folic Acid?

Folic acid, sometimes called folate, is a B vitamin (B9), which can be found naturally in many fruits and vegetables including oranges, bananas, blackberries, nuts, spinach, and broccoli.

Recommended Daily Intake

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all women of child-bearing age consume at least 400 mg of folic acid each day in order to prevent spinal bifida and other neural tube defects. Such birth defects occur when the neural tube, the part of a developing baby that becomes the brain and spinal cord, does not develop properly. Neural tube defects are most likely to occur during the first three months of pregnancy, which is why it is crucial that women to take at least 400 mg of folic each day beginning before conception through the first trimester. Unfortunately, many women have unplanned pregnancies, and some may not even realize they’re pregnant during the critical stages of neural tube development when folic acid is most important.

The FDA and Folic Acid

In an effort to ensure that all women of child-bearing age in the United States consume the recommended daily value of folic acid, the FDA mandated that folic acid be added to foods including fortified cereals, pastas, and whole grains. This mandate took effect in January of 1998 so that even women who had unplanned pregnancies or couldn’t afford to purchase multi-vitamins or folic acid supplements could still consume an adequate amount of folic acid through their diets.

Multi-Vitamins and Folic Acid Supplements

For many women, the amount of folic acid consumed through their daily diet is not enough, and doctors often recommend a multi-vitamin or folic acid supplement. Most multi-vitamins contain the recommended 400 mg. However, it is important that women discuss with their doctors how much folic acid they should be taking. Women who have had a miscarriage or a baby born with a neural tube defect may be advised to take more. Folic acid is non-toxic, so there is no harm in taking larger amounts, but it is recommended that the daily intake not exceed 1000 mg, as this can conceal a vitamin B12 deficiency.

Other Benefits of Folic Acid for Both Men and Women

Recent studies have suggested that folic acid has other benefits, too. It may help both men and women reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, protect against heart disease, reduce the risk of stroke, and even protect against certain cancers including cancers of the breast and colon.

Conversely, a deficiency of folic acid may result in anemia. Studies have also suggested that individuals with a folic acid deficiency may have a poor response to antidepressants. Considering the profound effects that this essential B vitamin can have on overall health, it is important for both men and women to consume an ample amount of folic acid each day.

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