Vitamin B9, also called folate or folic acid, is one of 8 B vitamins. All B vitamins help the body convert food (carbohydrates) into fuel (glucose), which is used to produce energy.
These B vitamins, often referred to as B-complex vitamins, also help the body use fats and protein.
B-complex vitamins are needed for a healthy liver, and healthy skin, hair, and eyes. They also help the nervous system function properly.
Folic acid is the synthetic form of B9.
All the B vitamins are water-soluble, meaning the body does not store them.
Folic acid is crucial for proper brain function and plays an important role in mental and emotional health. It aids in the production of DNA and RNA, the body's genetic material, and is especially important when cells and tissues are growing rapidly, such as in infancy, adolescence, and pregnancy.
Folic acid also works closely with vitamin B12 to help make red blood cells and help iron work properly in the body.
Pregnant women need more folic acid to lower the risk of neural tube birth defects, including cleft palate, spina bifida, and brain damage.
If you talked to your doctor when you were trying to conceive, they probably told you to start taking a prenatal vitamin with folic acid. One study showed that women who took folic acid for at least a year before getting pregnant cut their chances of delivering early by 50% or more.
The CDC recommends that you start taking folic acid every day for at least a month before you become pregnant, and every day while you are pregnant. However, the CDC also recommends that all women of childbearing age take folic acid every day. So you'd be fine to start taking it even earlier.
A diet lacking foods rich in folate or folic acid can lead to a folate deficiency.
Folate deficiency can also occur in people who have conditions, such as celiac disease, that prevent the small intestine from absorbing nutrients from foods (malabsorption syndromes).
Rich sources of folate include:
- Dark leafy greens
- Mustard greens
- Brussels sprouts
- Lima beans
- Beef liver
- Brewer's yeast
- Root vegetables
- Whole grains
- Wheat germ
- Bulgur wheat
- Kidney beans
- White beans
- Lima beans
- Mung beans
- Orange juice
Folic acid deficiency can cause:
- Poor growth
- Tongue inflammation
- Loss of appetite
- Shortness of breath
- Mental sluggishness
- Heart palpitation
How to Take It?
Most people (except pregnant women) should be able to get enough folic acid from their diets.
Check with a knowledgeable health care provider (G.P doctor) before taking folic acid supplements or giving them to children.
Daily recommendations for dietary folic acid are:
- Infants, 0 to 6 months: 65 mcg (adequate intake)
- Infants, 7 to 12 months: 80 mcg (adequate intake)
- Children, 1 to 3 years: 150 mcg (RDA)
- Children, 4 to 8 years: 200 mcg (RDA)
- Children, 9 to 13 years: 300 mcg (RDA)
- Teens, 14 to 18 years: 400 mcg (RDA)
- Men and women, 19 years and older: 400 mcg (RDA)
- Pregnant women: 600 mcg (RDA)
- Breastfeeding women: 500 mcg (RDA)
Amounts used in studies for heart disease range from 400 to 1,200 mcg. However, high levels of folate can hide a vitamin B12 deficiency, and should be taken only under a doctor's supervision. If you are considering taking a folic acid supplement, ask your doctor to help you determine the right dose for you.