Why do I need folate?

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Folate is vital to making the DNA in your cells. If the synthesis of DNA is disrupted, your body’s ability to create and maintain new cells is impaired. For this reason, folate plays many important roles, from maintaining healthy blood cells and preventing birth defects to possibly fighting cancer and heart disease.

Folate also helps your body use amino acids and is needed to help red blood cells divide and increase in adequate numbers.

Enriched pasta, rice, breads and cereals, legumes (dried peas and beans), leafy green vegetables (spinach, lettuce, collards), broccoli, asparagus, and orange juice are all good sources of this vitamin.
Picture of citrus & broccoli
Folate is an essential, water-soluble B vitamin that occurs naturally in foods. Folic acid is the more bioavailable, synthetic form used in food fortification and dietary supplements. Food intake surveys often find consumption of this vitamin lacking. Folate was first identified as an important vitamin needed to prevent anemia during pregnancy. Folate assists in the production and maintenance of new cells (such as red blood cells), RNA and DNA. This is especially important during periods of rapid cell division and growth such as during infancy and pregnancy.

Folate also plays a role in regulation of homocysteine levels, lowering this amino acid. Elevated homocysteine may increase the risk of developing coronary heart disease, heart attack, stroke, osteoporosis, bone fractures and Alzheimer's disease.

A link between maternal folate status and neural tube birth defects (such as spina bifida) brought great attention to the importance of this vitamin. In 1998, a national folate food fortification program was instituted, bringing to 400 mcg the amount in a serving of fortified grains. Due to fluctuating diet trends, many of these fortified foods are not consumed by those who would benefit most. Additionally, many of the fortified foods are not high on the list of ideal food choices for a healthy diet. Natural sources of folate include leafy green vegetables (like spinach and turnip greens), fruits (like citrus fruits and juices), and dried beans and peas.
Folate helps produce and maintain new cells. This is especially important during periods of rapid cell division and growth, such as infancy and pregnancy. Folate also helps prevent changes to DNA that may lead to cancer. Both adults and children need folate to make normal red blood cells and prevent anemia.

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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.