When you hear the terms folate and folic acid, the context is likely to be about pregnancy. Expectant mothers need this nutrient as it is crucial to the development of the baby and without it- the child can be born with brain and spine defects.
However, regardless of whether you’re pregnant, folic acid is a nutrient that all women can benefit from.
Is it folate or folic acid?
The terms folate and folic acid are often used interchangeably, and although they are one of the same – their metabolic functions and effects are different. Both folate and folic acids are different forms of vitamin B9, but folate is the natural form present in some plant food sources. Alternatively, folic acid is the synthetic form that’s used in supplements and added to certain foods like breakfast cereals and flour (1).
Why is it important?
Over 40% of pregnancies are unplanned, and many birth defects occur in the first few weeks of pregnancy – often before a woman is even aware that she’s pregnant, which makes the intake of this element important. In pregnant women, folate/folic acid is imperative for normal fetal development.
Studies have shown that consuming the daily recommended allowance of folate/folic acid (400mcg) before and during pregnancy can reduce the risk of neural defects by nearly 70%. Spina bifida – which is the most common neural defect – can cause paralysis in the baby’s legs as well as bladder and bowel control problems. Aside from this, a 2016 study found that this element could potentially reduce a child’s future obesity risk.
Aside from improving fetal health, folate/folic acid contains a range of other benefits. Firstly, our bodies need it to make DNA and RNA, which serve as the basis for the production of healthy cells – particularly red blood cells. Thus, appropriate consumption of folate/folic acid can help prevent anemia.
It is also responsible for breaking down an amino acid called homocysteine which is linked to meat, fish, and dairy products. If your body is low in folate/folic acid, the levels of homocysteine can rise which can lead to an increased risk of hypothyroidism, cardiovascular diseases, and kidney diseases.
This element has other benefits
- Recent studies have shown a correlation between low levels of folate/folic acid in the body and depression.
- According to an article published in Clinical Orthopedics and Related Research, women are more likely to get osteoporosis. Consequently, it’s important for them to have folate/folic acid in their bodies. Doing so can prevent bone mass loss and also help reduce symptoms of weakened bones.
- Lastly, studies have cited folic acid as a preventive agent in regards to Alzheimer’s disease.
To eat or to supplement?
The following foods below are high in folate:
- Pinto Beans
- Seeds And Nuts
- Dark Green Leafy Vegetables
Although these foods are naturally high in folate and other nutrients, you may be unsatisfied with your intake and prefer a supplement. This is fine, as our bodies can use folic acid more efficiently than folate.
Before deciding to take folic acid supplements, ensure that you let your doctor know about any health issues. This includes, but is not limited to, kidney disease, an infection, a type of anemia, or if you’re an excessive drinker. The supplements only contain folic acid and ensure that each tablet contains at least 400 micrograms of folic acid. Remember not to take more than one multivitamin a day, as this can potentially cause health problems.