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What is folic acid?

Dr. Deborah Raines, MSN
Nursing Specialist

Folic acid is a B-complex vitamin. Folic acid helps the body to manufacture red blood cells, to produce and maintain new cells, and to help prevent changes to DNA that may lead to cancer. During pregnancy, folic acid plays a role in the prevention of neural tube defects in the developing embryo.

Folic acid, or folate, is one of several B vitamins. More specifically (and this is just for those of you who love trivia facts), folic acid is vitamin B9.

It is a water-soluble vitamin, which means that it dissolves in water, so any excess or leftover vitamin will come out at your next bathroom break -- it can’t be stored up. This means that you have to make sure you are getting enough of it on a daily basis.

Folic acid is an important vitamin for men and women, because it is used to help the body make DNA (our genetic material) and new cells. 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.

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.

This may seem like a lot, but you can find it in a lot of food (and cover the rest with a supplement). Look for it in orange juice and other citrus fruits or juices; dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach or kale; and beans. Pork, chicken and shellfish (like lobster) contain folic acid. Cereals and breads also are typically fortified with B9, but read the nutrition label to be sure.

Janis Jibrin, MS, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, a B vitamin that's found naturally in foods such as oranges and spinach and is essential for making DNA. This B vitamin is so crucial to preventing a type of birth defect called neural tube defects that in 1998 the U.S. and Canadian governments began adding it to flour, rice, and other grains. It worked -- neural tube defects dropped by 20 to 50 percent. The food form has also been linked to protection against cancer.

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Folic acid (or folate) is a member of the B-vitamin family found in green, leafy vegetables. It plays an important role in several chemical processes in your body. Many medical experts are currently recommending that people increase their intake of folic acid because folic acid lowers homocysteine levels in our bodies. Homocysteine is a by-product of the metabolic breakdown of a particular amino acid (the building blocks of proteins) called cysteine. There is a growing amount of scientific evidence suggesting that people with high levels of homocysteine are more likely to suffer from a heart attack or stroke. Although the issue remains to be settled, some studies suggest that people with diabetes have higher than normal amounts of homocysteine in their bodies, and this fact may be related to the increased number of heart attacks and strokes that occur in people with diabetes. Thus, it may be beneficial for people with diabetes to supplement their diet with the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of 180–200 mcg per day for men and women and 400 mcg for pregnant women. This is the amount of folic acid usually found in daily multivitamin preparations.

Folic acid is the synthetic form of the B vitamin folate, most often used in dietary supplements due to its greater bioavailability.

Stacy Wiegman, PharmD
Pharmacy Specialist

Folic acid is an essential B-complex vitamin necessary for all men and women. This nutrient is found in many foods, like leafy green vegetables, fruits and nuts. It’s also found in enriched breads, cereals and grain products. You may also want to take a dietary supplement. Folic acid is required to make and maintain healthy, new cells, as well as red blood cells. It’s especially important for growth, such as for pregnancy. This vitamin may prevent major birth defects. Folic acid is also responsible for making DNA and RNA, cellular building blocks.

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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.