Why should I take folic acid?

All sexually active women should get 400 micrograms (mcg or 0.4 mg) of folic acid every day. Even women with a small chance of getting pregnant should get their daily dose of folic acid. This is because many pregnancies are not planned. Often women don't know they are pregnant for a number of weeks. And some birth defects happen in the very first weeks of pregnancy.

Taking 400 mcg of folic acid every day will lower the risk of some birth defects that happen in early pregnancy. If a woman doesn't start taking vitamins until the second or third month of pregnancy, it may be too late to prevent birth defects. Folic acid may also have other health benefits for women.

This answer is based on source information from The U.S Department of Human Services Office on Womens Health. 

Think B vitamins! Folic acid is one of the key "B family vitamins," which we "burn" a lot of. Besides being essential to the proper function of almost every cellular activity in our body, it is used in the formation of DNA and red blood cells and even healthy gums and a healthy pregnancy for women. 

Before taking any dietary supplement a clear case for supplementation should exist. Is your diet inadequate in folate? Look at your intake of fortified foods, green leafy vegetables and liver. These are all significant sources of folate. Also, if you are experiencing a growth phase (adolescence, pregnancy), then folate needs are higher. If lab tests have shown your folate status is suboptimal, then supplementation would be advisable. Since it is a water-soluble vitamin, it must be ingested on a daily basis. If your diet is low due to lack of higher folate sources or calories are restricted for weight loss, you may not be getting adequate folate intake. Supplementing would be a wise alternative in these cases. Additionally, if you have been identified with high homocysteine levels, folic acid supplementation can help lower the levels of this amino acid.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Folic acid is an essential B vitamin. It’s involved in as much of your daily internal activities as your mother-in-law seems to be externally. 

Folic acid plays an integral role in the breakdown, creation, and use of proteins. It’s also needed to help form new red blood cells and DNA, your body’s most basic building block and instruction manual.

Not to mention, folic acid also ensures that tissues and cells grow and function properly. This is particularly important during pregnancy where getting enough folic acid can help reduce the risk of serious, possibly life-threatening birth defects in the spine and brain of the unborn baby. But it’s especially important for pregnant women because getting the right amount of folic acid is necessary to prevent a serious birth defect called spina bifida as well as decrease Junior’s risk of cancer in his early years. There is a risk in too much…more than 1,200 micrograms a day seems to foster the growth of some cancers -- such as some breast cancers, just as too little fosters cancer’s initiation.

You also should take it if you want to prevent gray hair, a swollen tongue, sores in the mouth called ulcers, and even diarrhea.

Guys who are older than 14 need 800 micrograms a day. Girls and women ages 14-50 need at least 800 micrograms daily; pregnant women should aim for 800 micrograms a day. Women who are older than 50 need 800 mcg a day.
So fill up on folic acid-containing foods like citrus, dark leafy greens, and cereal or bread and cover the rest with a supplement.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.