Folic Acid: Information
Folic acid is a B-vitamin, and is the synthetic (man-made) version of naturally-occurring folate. Folate is found in a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables and dried beans and legumes. Many food products such as cereals, breads, orange juice, etc., are fortified with folic acid since food processing removes most folate. When a food is fortified, or enriched, it means that certain vitamins and nutrients not naturally occurring in the food product have been added for increased nutritional value.
Folate/folic acid plays an important role in the tissue formation and development of an embryo, and is necessary for the production of DNA.
Folic Acid's Health Benefits
Folic acid has been shown as a key nutrient in the prevention of neural tube defects (NTD’s) such as spina bifida, in developing embryos. Research has shown that it is vitally important that women of childbearing age consume at least 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily to reduce the occurrences of NTD’s. When consumed at least one month prior to conception and into the first trimester of pregnancy, folic acid may reduce the risk of developing neural tube defects by 50-70%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Preliminary research suggests that folic acid may also help prevent other types of birth defects, but more research is necessary.
In addition, folic acid has been shown to lower blood levels of homocysteine in men and women. High levels of homocysteine have been associated with increased risk for heart disease and stroke. However, it is not known as to whether folic acid reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Using Folic Acid
Although folate is found in a variety of foods, many factors including temperature, processing, etc. may interfere with the body’s ability to absorb and use the nutrient. Therefore, consumption of folic acid-fortified foods and/or folic acid supplements should be included as part of a healthy diet.
Women of childbearing age should take 400mcg folic acid daily. Consult your ob-gyn if you are planning on becoming pregnant, are pregnant, or have previously had a neural-tube defect pregnancy, as this recommendation may vary.
Side-effects and Cautions:
There is no known toxic level of folic acid, though it is not recommended to exceed 1000 mcg of supplemental folic acid daily unless advised otherwise by a physician. Consuming large amounts of folic acid may hide detection of a vitamin B12 deficiency.