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What is Folic Acid? (Vitamin B9, Folate, Pteroylglutamic acid)

Tuesday, December 07, 2010
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Water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water. Leftover amounts of the vitamin leave the body through the urine. That means you need a continuous supply of the vitamin in your diet.

Folic acid works along with vitamin B12 and vitamin C to help the body break down, use, and create new proteins. When the amino acid, methionine breaks down in the body, it produces homocysteine. Homocysteine is a harmful substance for the body and can cause heart disease, Alzheimer's disease  and cancers. Folic acid along with other B complex vitamins helps to convert this homocysteine to cysteine which does not have any harmful effects . 

The vitamin also helps to form red blood cells and helps produce DNA and RNA, the building blocks of the human body, which carry genetic information.

Folic acid helps tissues grow and cells work. Taking the right amount of folic acid before and during pregnancy helps prevent certain birth defects, including spina bifida, cleft lip, cleft palate and neural tube defects.

Folic acid supplements may also be used to treat folic acid deficiency, certain menstrual problems, and leg ulcers.

Folic Acid Food Sources
Folate occurs naturally in the following foods:

  • Beans and legumes
  • Citrus fruits and juices
  • Wheat bran and other whole grains
  • Dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, broccoli, lettuce)
  • Poultry, pork, shellfish
  • Organ meats (Liver and kidney)

Folic Acid is sensitive to light, heat and storage and some amount maybe lost during cooking and storage.  
(Folic acid is the man-made form of folate found in supplements.)

Folic Acid - Side Effects
Folic acid deficiency may cause poor growth, gray hair, swollen tongue (glossitis), mouth ulcers, peptic ulcer, and diarrhea. It may also lead to certain types of anemias.

A little extra folic acid usually doesn't cause harm, because the vitamin is regularly removed from the body through urine.

Folic Acid - Recommendations
The best way to get the daily requirement of essential vitamins is to eat a balanced diet that contains a variety of foods from the food guide pyramid. Most people in the United States have an adequate dietary intake of folic acid because it is plentiful in the food supply.

There is good evidence that folic acid can help reduce the risk of certain birth defects (spina bifida and anencephaly). Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should take at least 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. Pregnant women need even higher levels of folic acid. Ask your health care provider which amount is best for you.

The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine recommends the following dietary intake for folate:

  • 0 - 6 months: 65 mcg/day
  • 7 - 12 months: 80 mcg/day


  • 1 - 3 years: 150 mcg/day
  • 4 - 8 years: 200 mcg/day
  • 9 - 13 years: 300 mcg/day

Adolescents and Adults

  • Males age 14 and older: 400 mcg/day
  • Females age 14 - 50: 400 mcg/day plus 400 mcg/day from supplements or fortified foods
  • Females age 50 and over: 400 mcg/day

Specific recommendations depend on age, gender, and other factors (such as pregnancy). Many foods are now fortified with folic acid to help prevent birth defects.

The best way to get the daily requirement of essential vitamins is to eat a balanced diet that contains a variety of foods from the food guide pyramid.

By. Poonam Vaswani,                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Dietitian,

Food and Nutrition Board. Institute of Medicine - Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamine, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 1998.

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User Comments

16 March, 2011 | omnivore | Reply

omnivore Livers are the most abundant source of folate. They also come packed with a huge amount of Vit B12 and some Vit B6 as well. These 3 nutrients(Folate, B12, B6) together convert harmful homo-cysteine to harmless substances.

Liver is a true super food, an excellent source of Vit B12, Vit A, Copper, Folate, Vit B2, Selenium, Choline, Biotin(Vit B7) and Tryptophan. It is also a very good source Zinc, Vit C, Vit B3, Protein, Phosphorus. A good source of Vit B6, Vit B5, Iron, Vit B1, Manganese. Other nutrients like potassium, magnesium, sodium and calcium are present in small amounts.

People should try and include Liver around 1-2 days per week in their diet. The extremely sky high Vit A(retinol) content makes daily consumption a risky affair. Chicken livers have less Vit A compared to other animals and can be consumed a bit more frequently. The cholesterol in liver is irrelevant. Dietary cholesterol is not the evil it was made out to be. The 300mg per day limit has no scientific basis.

04 June, 2010 | Sangeetha Narayana Swamy | Reply

Sangeetha Narayana Swamy Dear Komal,

Apart from consuming a variety of foods rich in Folic acid, studies suggest that women in their reproductive age receive 400mcg of Folic acid as a supplement. This is just to make sure that your body gets the required amount of the nutrient, as Folic acid is susceptible to heat, light and storage and also lost during cooking.

Thank your for your inquiry and please feel free to contact us for further information.

Sangeetha Narayana Swamy,
Senior Dietitian,

04 June, 2010 | Komal | Reply

Komal Hi,
I am 20 years old and vegetarian.I wanted to know if my regular diet would be able to meet my folic acid requirements or should I go for supplement?

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