On Your Health

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The Basics of Folic Acid

If you are a woman of reproductive age, you’ve likely been told that you need folic acid to help prevent major birth defects like brain anencephaly and spina bifida.

Folic acid is a type of B vitamin that helps your body make new cells like skin cells, hair and nails. More importantly, folic acid helps form the neural tube in the early development of babies.

Besides eating food that is rich in folate, the Centers for Disease Control also urges women to take 400 micrograms of folic acid (the synthetic, man-made form of folate) every day.

Let’s learn why folic acid is such a vital vitamin for women.

How does folic acid help

Folic acid does plenty, especially for women who are of child-bearing age. Folic acid protects unborn children against serious birth problems caused by neural tube defects. These birth defects can develop within the first few weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman even knows she is pregnant. 

Since nearly half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, according to the CDC, all women should take folic acid, even if they aren’t planning to become pregnant.

Folic acid is thought to play a role in preventing other types of birth defects and miscarriage. Beyond your baby’s health, folic acid also helps prevent a special type of anemia called folate-deficiency anemia.

Folate-deficiency anemia is a condition that causes headaches, paling of the skin, fatigue and a sore mouth and tongue. This kind of anemia is caused when you don’t get enough folate, but can also be the result of alcoholism and certain medicines used for arthritis, seizures or anxiety.


How to get enough folic acid

In order to get the needed 400 mcg of folic acid every day, all women should take a supplement that has the minimum required amount of folic acid.

You can also get your folate from food. Choose a diet rich in dark, green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, and incorporate other folate-rich foods like oranges, poultry, beans, whole grains and nuts. Some breads and breakfast cereals are also fortified with folic acid.

The good news is that most vitamins sold in the U.S. have the recommended daily amount of folic acid (400 mcg) that women need. Nevertheless, always check the label to be sure it has the recommended daily value of folic acid.

Are some women more at risk?

All women of child-bearing age are at risk of not getting enough folic acid from diet alone, which is why supplements are encouraged. In fact, women actively trying to get pregnant can even up the dose to 800 mcg a day.

Certain ethnic groups also run the risk of not getting enough folic acid. Approximately one in three African-American women doesn’t get enough folic acid, and Mexican-American women often don’t get enough either. 

Do men need folic acid?

Men can also benefit from folate and folic acid. It not only supports heart health and balanced mood, but research suggests that folic acid is important to male fertility as well.

A report from Human Reproduction showed evidence that folate helped maintain sperm development and maturation. In the study, the men with a high folate intake showed up to 30 percent fewer instances of sperm with an abnormal number of chromosomes than those with a lower folate intake. 

Whether or not you are planning to get pregnant, folic acid should be a part of your diet every day. Because folic acid is water-soluble, it passes through the body quickly, so you need folic acid each day to keep your body work properly.

We have more health tips for you on our blog, including information on vaccines during pregnancy and food safety tips for pregnant women. For more information about getting pregnant and what you may need, speak to your INTEGRIS health professional today.