Folic Acid: Does Everyone Need this Vitamin?

a pregnant woman takes folic acid for her baby's health
Taking folic acid helps ensure you have adequate levels of folate for a developing fetus.

If you’re pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant, you probably already know how important it is to take a supplement containing folic acid.

Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate, or Vitamin B9. This essential nutrient aids in the production and maintenance of new cells. It helps:

  • Form red blood cells
  • Create new DNA
  • Prevent birth defects of the spinal cord and brain, referred to as neural tube defects

Researchers have associated folic acid with a reduced risk of congenital heart defects and possibly premature birth. That’s why pregnant women need to get enough of it.

Why Do You Need Folic Acid if You’re Not Pregnant?

For starters, 40 percent of pregnancies across the globe are unplanned. Therefore, taking folic acid if you’re a woman and not pregnant helps ensure you have adequate levels of folate for a developing fetus before you find out you’re pregnant.

Additionally, research indicates folic acid may play a preventive role in autism, type 2 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. A deficiency in this vitamin may increase the risk of depression, allergic diseases, anemia and low bone density. Folic acid may also impact memory and brain function.

Have Questions about Pregnancy Nutrition?

Make an appointment at the Nutrition Counseling Center.

Getting enough folate is something you need to do every day, as it’s a water-soluble vitamin and is not stored in the body.

How Do You Know You’re Getting Enough Folic Acid?

You can get folate naturally from foods, including:

  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Beans and legumes
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Citrus juices
  • Egg yolks
  • Fortified breads and cereals

Your body more easily absorbs folic acid in vitamins or supplements than the folate you get from food. Doctors usually recommend that non-pregnant women and men get 400 mcg daily, whereas pregnant women should get 600 mcg and breastfeeding women should get 500 mcg.

Providers may advise some patients to take higher doses, including:

  • Those with a family history of neural tube defects
  • Individuals who take certain medications for cancer, epilepsy or autoimmune diseases

 

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