Folate and folic acid are forms of a water-soluble B vitamin. Folate occurs naturally in food, and folic acid is the synthetic form of this vitamin. Folic acid helps your body produce and maintain new cells, and also helps prevent changes to DNA that may lead to cancer. Women who are pregnant or might become pregnant take folic acid to prevent miscarriage and “neural tube defects.” These are serious birth defects such as spina bifida, when the fetal spine and back do not close in the womb. Folic acid is also used for many other conditions including depression, stroke, decline in memory and thinking skills in older people that is more than what is normal for their age, and many others.


Uses of folic acid:


  • Prevention of birth defects and pregnancy complications.
  • Treatment of folate deficiency which can occur due to a variety of causes, including inadequate dietary intake, surgery, pregnancy, alcoholism, and malabsorptive diseases. Deficiency can result in serious side effects, including megaloblastic anemia, mental impairment, impaired immune function, and depression.

  • Promotion of brain health, folic acid supplements may improve brain function in those with mental impairment and help treat Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Reduction of heart disease risk factors.

  • May help improve blood sugar control, reduce insulin resistance, and enhance cardiovascular function in those with diabetes. These supplements may also help reduce diabetic complications, including neuropathy

  • Folic acid and folate supplements have been shown to reduce inflammatory markers, including C-reactive protein (CRP), in different populations, including women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and children with epilepsy

Folate food sources:

Folic acid is normally found in foods such as dried beans, peas, lentils, oranges, whole-wheat products, liver, asparagus, beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and spinach. Since 1998, folic acid has been added to cold cereals, flour, breads, pasta, bakery items, cookies, and crackers.

Folic acid supplementation and recommended intake:

 The recommended dietary intake for folic acid is 400 mcg DFE per day for adults, 600 mcg DFE for pregnant women, and 500 mcg DFE for breastfeeding women. Although these needs can be met through diet, taking a supplement is a convenient way to meet folate needs for many people, especially those at risk of deficiency, including pregnant women and older adults.



Take away tip

Before taking this nutrient as a supplement..

You should not use this medication if you have ever had an allergic reaction to folic acid. If you have any of these other conditions, you may need a dose adjustment or special tests to safely use folic acid:

  • kidney disease (or if you are on dialysis)
  • Hemolytic anemia
  • Pernicious anemia
  • Anemia that has not been diagnosed by a doctor and confirmed with laboratory testing
  • An infection
  • If you are an alcoholic.


Q&A: What are the popular food sources of folate?

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