What is Folic Acid?

Folic acid, also known as vitamin B9 or folate, is necessary for the very existence of your body. Folic acid is used to form healthy red blood cells. It also works with other vitamins to help you breakdown, use and synthesize new proteins that control cell growth and division. The making and repairing of your DNA also requires folate, making it a key factor in the prevention of cell mutation, cancer and genetic diseases. Your body cannot make folic acid on its own, so you have to get it either through food or nutritional supplements. And it is crucial that you acquire enough of these vitamins for your body to function properly.

How Much Folic Acid Do You Need?

Getting enough folate is essential for everyone, but it is especially important for women during their reproductive years. Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should take extra doses of folic acid in addition to the amount they acquire through their diets. Having enough folate during pregnancy is a key to proper fetal development and prevention of birth defects.

All adults ages 14 and above need to take a minimum dietary intake of 400 micrograms of folate per day. It’s also recommended that women ages 14 to 50 get an additional 400 micrograms through supplements. Pregnant women may require extra folic acid depending on their stage of fetal development.

There is no limit on folate intake. These vitamins are water soluble, so any excessive amount is expelled through urine and does not appear to be harmful to your body.

Where Do You Get Folic Acid?

The best way to prevent folic acid deficiency is by maintaining a balanced diet. Folic acid is found in almost every food group. Certain foods, like dark leafy vegetables, citrus, beans, legumes, whole grains and red meats are naturally packed with folic acid. But you can also find high-folate content in fortified cereals and juices. Including all varieties of foods in your diet should keep you well supplied with this vitamin.

Folic Acid Deficiency

The No. 1 cause of folic acid deficiency is malnutrition, therefore it is not a very common occurrence. Certain groups of people, like pregnant women, alcoholics and the elderly, have a higher chance of being folic acid deficient. This may lead to the onset of a variety of symptoms, such as diarrhea, gray hair, ulcers and a swollen tongue.

An inadequate amount of folic acid can have serious health consequences.

  • Anemia: Folic acid is an integral part of your red blood cell development. Not having enough folic acid causes your red cells to become abnormally large and deformed. These defective red cells have significantly reduced growth rates and a shorter life span than normal cells. This greatly impairs your blood’s capability to carry oxygen.
  • Birth defects: Women who are thinking of becoming pregnant or are pregnant should start taking extra doses of folic acid. The development of the neural tube of the fetus depends on folic acid, and inadequate amounts can lead to severe birth defects, such as spina bifida and anencelphaly.

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