If you’ve had a baby or are thinking of having a baby, folic acid (also known as folate) has most likely been on your radar screen at some point. But this nutrient should be on everyone’s plate, even those of us without babies on the brain!
Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate-a naturally occurring compound found in a variety of foods.
Folate is a B vitamin (Vitamin B-9 to be exact), and it’s so important in fetal development that not only pregnant women but women of childbearing age who are considering having babies are advised to add folic acid to their diets. That’s because folic acid supports the growth of both the fetus and the placenta, and it prevents many birth defects.
B vitamins, including folate, work to help our bodies break food down into energy. Folate aids in brain function and nerve health, and it can even protect against several types of cancer. Folic acid protects against heart disease and is necessary to make and maintain cells. It also is required for the production of DNA and RNA, red blood cells and amino acids.
In order for our bodies to run optimally…
• adults need a minimum of 400 mcg each day
• pregnant and breastfeeding women need 500– 600 mcg daily
• babies up to 6 months old require 65 mcg per day
• children aged 6 months to one year need 80 mcg
• children aged 1 to 3 need 150 mcg of folic acid daily
• children 4-8 years old need 200 daily mcg
• and kids from 9 to 13 years of age need 300 mcg
One of the main signs of a folic acid deficiency is depression. Studies have shown that supplementing with folic acid may even help antidepressants work better.
It is possible to get the folate you need each day from food, especially the following:
• Beef liver (3 ounces = 215 mcg)
• Spinach (1/2 cup steamed = 131 mcg)
• Black eyed peas (1/2 cup = 105 mcg)
• Asparagus (4 spears = 89 mcg)
Other foods containing notable levels of folate include melons, lemons, bananas, mushrooms, broccoli and brussels sprouts.
Eating loads of dark leafy greens each day helps to provide us with the nutrition we need, including our folic acid requirements. But for nursing and lactating women, it is a good idea to supplement.
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You seem to use the terms folate and folic acid interchangeably, and that is not accurate. Folate is the generic term for all forms of Vitamin B9, and synthetic folic acid is only one particular form of folate.
A significant percentage of the population, perhaps 30%, has genetic polymorphisms, such as MTHFR, that keep them from being able to metabolize folic acid. Those people need the nonsynthetic, methylated form of folate, called MTHF or methyltetrahydrofolate, which is available as an OTC supplement. For people with MTHFR SNPs, because they have limited methylation ability, folic acid doesn’t get methylated and doesn’t become the final active form of folate, MTHFR. Instead of being taken up by the body, folic acid pools in the blood, leading to misleading high folate blood test results despite actual folate deficiency. High folic acid levels in the blood cause inhibition of natural killer cell function, which has been linked to cancer development.