Folate, formerly known as folacin, is the generic term for both naturally occurring food folate and folic acid, the fully oxidized monoglutamate form of the vitamin that is used in dietary supplements and fortified foods. It is a B vitamin that's important for cell growth and metabolism. Studies show that many people in the U.S. don't get enough folic acid.
Don't be confused by the terms folate and folic acid. They have the same effects. Folate is the natural version found in foods. Folic acid is the man- made version in supplements and added to foods.
Why do people take folic acid?
Folic acid supplements are standard for pregnant women and women who plan to become pregnant. Folic acid reduces the risk for birth defects of a baby’s brain and spine -- spina bifida and anencephaly -- by 50% or more. Folic acid may also lower the risk of preeclampsia and early labor. Many doctors recommend that any woman of childbearing age take either a multivitamin or a folic acid supplement. Folic acid can protect against birth defects that may form before a woman knows they are pregnant.
Folic acid is used to treat deficiencies, which can cause certain types of anemia and other problems. Folate deficiencies are more common in people who have digestive problems, kidney or liver disease, or who abuse alcohol. Folic acid is also used to reduce the toxicity of the drug methotrexate in psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis patients.
Folic acid supplements have been studied as treatments for many other conditions. So far, the results of these studies have been inconclusive.
How much folic acid should you take?
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) includes the folate you get from both the food you eat and any supplements you take.
Folate (Folic Acid) Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)
Can you get folate naturally from foods?
Good sources of folate are:
- Leafy green vegetables, like spinach, broccoli, and lettuce
- Beans, peas, and lentils
- Fruits like lemons, bananas, and melons
- Fortified and enriched products, like some breads, juices, and cereals
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