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Folic acid in diet

Definition

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.

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.

Alternative Names

Folic acid; Polyglutamyl folacin; Pteroylmonoglutamate

Function

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.

See: Folic acid and birth defect prevention

Folic acid 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.

Food Sources

Folate occurs naturally in the following foods:

  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Dried beans and peas (legumes)
  • Citrus fruits and juices

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.

Side Effects

Too much folic acid usually doesn't cause harm, because the vitamin is regularly removed from the body through urine.

Recommendations

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 folic acid 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 RDA for vitamins may be used as goals for each person.
  • How much of each vitamin you need depends on your age and gender. Other factors, such as pregnancy and illnesses, are also important.

The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine Recommended Intakes for Individuals - Daily Reference Intakes (DRIs) for folate:

Infants

  • 0 - 6 months: 65 mcg/day
  • 7 - 12 months: 80 mcg/day

Children

  • 1 - 3 years: 150 mcg/day
  • 4 - 8 years: 200 mcg/day
  • 9 - 13 years: 300 mcg/day

Adolescents and Adults

  • Males age 14 and older: 400 mcg/day
  • Females age 14 - 50: 400 mcg/day plus 400 mcg/day from supplements or fortified foods
  • Females age 50 and over: 400 mcg/day

References

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.


Review Date: 2/8/2011
Reviewed By: Alison Evert, MS, RD, CDE, Nutritionist, University of Washington Medical Center Diabetes Care Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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