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Folic acid is a type of B vitamin. It is the man-made (synthetic) form of folate that is found in supplements and added to fortified foods.
Folate is a generic term for both naturally occurring folate found in foods and folic acid.
Folic acid is water-soluble. Water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water. Leftover amounts of the vitamin leave the body through the urine. That means your body does not store folic acid and you need a continuous supply of the vitamin in the foods you eat.
Folic acid; Polyglutamyl folacin; Pteroylmonoglutamate; Folate
Folate helps tissues grow and cells work. Taking the right amount of folic acid before and during pregnancy helps prevent certain birth defects, including spina bifida. Folate also helps prevent anemia.
Folate deficiency may cause:
It may also lead to certain types of anemias.
Folate works along with vitamin B12 and vitamin C to help the body break down, use, and create new proteins. The vitamin helps form red blood cells and produce DNA, the building block of the human body, which carries genetic information.
Folic acid supplements may also be used to treat folic acid deficiency, certain menstrual problems, and leg ulcers.
Folate occurs naturally in the following foods:
Fortified means that vitamins have been added to the food. Many foods are now fortified with folic acid, including enriched breads, cereals, flours, cornmeals, pastas, rice, and other grain products.
Too much folic acid usually doesn't cause harm, because the vitamin is regularly removed from the body through urine.
The best way to get the daily requirement of essential vitamins is to eat a wide variety of foods. Most people in the United States get enough folic acid in their diet because it is plentiful in the food supply.
There is good evidence that folic acid can help reduce the risk of certain birth defects (spina bifida and anencephaly). Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should take at least 400 micrograms (mcg) of a folic acid supplement every day. Pregnant women need even higher levels of folic acid. Ask your health care provider which amount is best for you.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamins reflects how much of each vitamin most people should get each day.
The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine Recommended Intakes for Individuals - Daily Reference Intakes (DRIs) for folate:
*For infants from birth to 12 months, the Food and Nutrition Board established an Acceptable Intake (AI) for folate that is equivalent to the mean intake of folate in healthy, breastfed infants in the United States.
Adolescents and Adults
Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, PantothenicAcid, Biotin, and Choline. National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 1998.
Escott-Stump S, ed. Nutrition and Diagnosis-Related Care. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2008.
Sarubin Fragaakis A, Thomson C. The Health Professional's Guide to Popular Dietary Supplements. 3rd ed. Chicago, IL: American Dietetic Association; 2007.
Suren P, et al. Association Between Maternal Use of Folic Acid Supplements and Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorders in Children. JAMA. 2013: Vol. 309; pp 570-577.