We often think of folic acid when it comes to a healthy pregnancy, but the benefits of this vitamin reach far beyond those 40 weeks. Austin Woods, PharmD candidate, and Luke Keller, PharmD, BCPS, BCCCP, gives us a rundown of the facts on folate.
What is the difference between folate and folic acid?
Folate is the naturally occurring vitamin contained in many foods, like fruits and vegetables, while folic acid is the man-made version. Folic acid carries the same benefits as folate and is found in fortified foods like breakfast cereals and, of course, many different vitamin products.
What does folic acid do in our bodies?
Folic acid is an essential B vitamin that helps our bodies make healthy new red blood cells. Without enough of it, some people may develop the folate-deficiency known as anemia. This can result in feeling tired or weak.
Who should take folic acid supplements?
Folic acid is important for everyone, but it is especially important for women of childbearing age. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all women between the ages of 15 and 45 consume 400 mcg of folic acid per day. Women who are pregnant should consume about 600 mcg per day.
Why is folic acid important?
Along with keeping our red blood cells healthy, daily consumption of folic acid helps to prevent two types of neural tube defects: Spina bifida and anencephaly.
These birth defects develop in the first few weeks of pregnancy, so it is important for women to make sure they are including folic acid in their diet even if they don’t expect to become pregnant.
Does folic acid affect my other medications?
As with any supplement you take, you should tell your doctor if you are taking folic acid vitamins, especially if you are taking any of the following medications:
- Antiepileptic drugs like phenytoin (Dilantin®), carbamazepine (Tegretol®) or valproate (Depacon®)
- Sulfasalazine (Azulfidine®)
How can I increase my intake?
Taking a daily multivitamin or folic acid supplement is the easiest way to get the right amount of folic acid, but the vitamin can also be found in many foods, including:
- Whole grains, nuts and legumes
- Green vegetables, such as asparagus and Brussels sprouts
- Fruits, like oranges and tomatoes
- Fortified breakfast cereals