Folic acid is the synthetic form of natural folate — which is a water-soluble vitamin. It is not naturally present in food but is added to certain foods, such as refined grain products.
Folic acid must be converted into active vitamin B9 before your body can use it. Once converted, it has a boatload of health benefits — which is why it is a popular supplement ingredient.
1. Prevents Neural Tube Defects
Multiple recent studies directly link low folic acid levels during early weeks of pregnancy to neural tube defects, such as malformations of the spine, brain, or spinal cord in infants.
In comparison, children of women who take folic acid supplements before and during pregnancy are born with notably lower rates of neural defects. (1)
Since nearly 90% of women don’t have enough folic acid levels for maximum safety during pregnancy, physicians recommend taking at least 400 micrograms of folate supplements per day. (2)
However, doctors recommend methylated folate supplements rather than folic acid supplements for this purpose because methylated folate is not required to be converted by your body.
2. Prevents Cancer
Since folate plays a key role in gene expression, high intakes of folic acid may protect against certain cancers, such as gut, lung, or breast cancer. (3)
Furthermore, low folate level is directly linked to the formation of easily breakable and unstable DNA, which leads to an increased risk of cancer. (4)
However, some studies suggest that high intakes of folic acid in people who have already developed cancer can promote tumor growth.
As none of the studies on folic acid’s relation with cancer is conclusive, more research is required.
3. Reduces Homocysteine Levels
Folic acid helps your body reduce levels of homocysteine — an inflammatory molecule directly linked to the development of certain heart diseases.
Folic acid helps lower homocysteine levels because it enables your body to convert homocysteine into another molecule called methionine — which isn’t harmful.
According to this study, taking folic acid supplements daily can reduce homocysteine levels by up to 25%.
Health Issues Associated With Folic Acid Deficiency
People who consume folic acid from foods or supplements have fewer chances of suffering from:
- Neural tube defects
- Megaloblastic anemia
- Certain types of cancer
- High homocysteine levels
- Inflammatory bowel disease
So to save yourself the discomfort caused by the health issues mentioned above, add a folic acid supplement to your diet.
Daily Recommended Intake
Since most people consume both synthetic and natural forms of folate, it has a unique measuring unit called “dietary folate equivalents” (DFE):
- 1 DFE = 1 microgram of natural folate from food
- 1.7 DFE = 1 microgram of synthetic folic acid taken with food
- 2 DFE = 1 microgram of synthetic folic acid taken on an empty stomach
For adults, the daily recommended intake (DRI) of folic acid is 400 micrograms DFE. However, for pregnant women, the DRI is 600 micrograms DFE.
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