Many of us stare at the side panel of our cereal in the morning and have more questions than answers about the vitamins and minerals we’re consuming: What do they do? How much do I need? How can I add it to my diet? To help you out, here’s a breakdown on folic acid that will answer your most important questions.
What is it?
Folic acid is a B-vitamin, alternatively called folate. Folate is the naturally occurring form.
What does it do?
The basic function of folic acid is building and restoring your body’s DNA. The vitamin is also an integral part of metabolism and in helping your cells grow. Folic acid also inhibits alterations in your DNA that can pave the way for cancer, and it can help your body avoid anemia.
Because it is instrumental in cell development, folic acid is also invaluable during pregnancy. According to Science Daily, folic acid intake during pregnancy reduces chances for neural tube defects like spina bifida. A more recent study suggests women who took folic acid supplements before they become pregnant and in the first trimester could reduce the chances of their baby having childhood autism by 40 percent.
After birth, folic acid has also been associated with mental skills. Health reported a Swedish study released in 2011 connected higher grades in school with teens who ate diets rich in folic acid. Other studies have drawn a relationship between elderly people with Alzheimer’s and dementia and low levels of folic acid. Although these studies did not determine if folic acid was the specific cause of better grades or if lack of it caused mental deterioration, they suggest the potential impact our intake of the vitamin may have.
How much do I need?
Adults need at least 400 micrograms a day, but women who are pregnant or nursing need 500-600 mcg a day. For children, the need ranges from 65 mcg a day for newborns to 300 mcg a day for pre-teens. The worst symptoms too much folic acid produces are usually mild (like nausea and gas), but if you take seizure medication, talk to your doctor about how your folic acid intake is interacting with your prescription. For more specific levels, check out this chart from WebMD.
Where do I get it?
Natural folate shows up in yeast, eggs, lentils, beans, peas, leafy veggies (like spinach, broccoli and lettuce) and fruit (melons, bananas and lemons), and folic acid is added to foods like certain breads, cereal and juice. Doctors recommend folic acid supplements for women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant.
- For news and basic information on folic acid: http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/folic-acid-folate-directory
- For basic information on folic acid: http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/lifestyle-guide-11/supplement-guide-folic-acid
- More information about birth defects and folic acid: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130117133328.htm
- For more on the connection between autism and folic acid intake during pregnancy: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130212172209.htm
- A report on the study linking folic acid to mental ability: http://news.health.com/2011/07/11/higher-folic-acid-levels-in-teens-tied-to-academic-success/