Folic acid is a B vitamin that is essential for helping your body make new cells. It is found in its natural form (called folate) in many foods, including leafy green vegetables, fruits, dried beans, peas, and nuts. They synthetic form, folic acid is added to enriched and fortified breads, cereals, and other grain products. You can also take it as a dietary supplement.
Folic acid is necessary to keep your blood healthy. When you have a folic acid deficiency, you can develop anemia, a condition in which the body may have too few red blood cells. This makes it hard for your blood to carry enough oxygen throughout your body. If you are diagnosed with anemia, you should have your folic acid level checked.
It is especially important for pregnant women to take in enough folic acid both before and during pregnancy to prevent birth defects of the infant’s brain and spine, including anencephaly (the failure of most or all of the brain to develop) and spina bifida (a deformity of the spine). Most women need 400 to 800 micrograms daily. You should check with your doctor to determine how much you need, especially if you are taking medications that may affect how your body uses folic acid.
You cannot get too much folic acid from food, but it is possible to consume too much from supplements. Taking more than 1,000 micrograms of folic acid a day may cause nerve damage and mask pernicious anemia in people who do not have enough vitamin B12 in their bodies. People at risk of a B12 defiency include vegans and people over 50.
1. Folic acid may also help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, age-related hearing loss, and some cancers.
2. Since 1998, the United States government has required that folic acid be added to cereals and breads to help prevent birth defects.
3. Folic acid supplements have been reported in one study to increase the occurrence of colon cancer.