Folic acid supplement benefits and dosages

What are the benefits of folic acid, and what is it used for?

Folic acid, also known as vitamin B9 (and therefore part of the full B complex), is one of the essential nutrients that we all need. It contributes to the production of DNA and other genetic material, as well as playing a role in processes like cell division.

In this article, we’ll look at the benefits of folic acid, for men and for women, along with which foods contain it, and what a folic acid deficiency can look like.

What is folic acid?

Folate is the generic form of vitamin B9, naturally found in lots of foods. However as we sometimes need more that we can get from our diet alone, we can use supplements that contain folic acid—the manmade compound that contains folate.

Our bodies can’t produce folate or folic acid, nor can it store the vitamin. Therefore, it’s vital that we get enough folic acid every day.

Folic acid dosage

The nutrient reference value (NRV) recommends 200mcg per day.

Folic acid for pregnancy

Because it helps the body to make DNA and other genetic material, there are specific benefits of folic acid for women trying to become pregnant. The current UK guidelines are that you take a larger folic acid dosage—400mcg daily until you're 12 weeks pregnant. This can help to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in your baby.

How folic acid interacts with other nutrients

If you decide to take a folic acid supplement, it can be beneficial to take it with other B vitamins, as this will help efficient energy release. You can read more about each of these vitamins here:

Which foods contain folic acid?

A variety of foods contain folate, and while there are both animal and plant-based sources, the latter tend to contain higher levels. Some of the foods particularly rich in folic acid (or folate) include:

  • Leafy green vegetables

  • Broccoli

  • Peas

  • Chickpeas and kidney beans

  • Liver (although this should not be considered a source of folic acid for pregnant women, who should avoid liver during pregnancy)

The benefits of folic acid

Even though we need less folic acid than some other B vitamins, it’s still an essential part of the diet, and can contribute to a healthy body and brain in many ways. These include:

  • Helping reduce tiredness and fatigue

  • Maintaining healthy red blood cells

  • Contributing to normal psychological functions

What are the symptoms of low folic acid levels?

Low levels of Folic acid are rare, but they can happen, and lead to megaloblastic anaemia. This is a blood disorder that can cause:

  • Fatigue

  • Lack of focus

  • Irritability

  • Heart palpitations

Are there any side effects of folic acid?

Taking folic acid supplements in large amounts (more than 1mg a day) can hide the symptoms of a low vitamin B12 levels. This is particularly important among older people, who do not absorb B12 as efficiently.

However, some pregnant women will receive medical advice to take larger quantities of folic acid supplements—in these instances you should follow your doctor’s instructions.

About the author:
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Sophie Medlin

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