What is Folic Acid and Why Do You Need It?

Folic acid, or vitamin B9, is a water-soluble member of the B vitamin family.

Folic acid is found in spinach and bananas.

What is folic acid?

Folate occurs naturally in foods, while folic acid is the synthetic form of folate.

Why do you need folic acid?

Vitamin B9 is essential for human growth and development, encourages normal nerve and proper brain functioning, and may help reduce blood-levels of the amino acid homocysteine (elevated homocysteine levels have been implicated in increased risk of heart disease and stroke). Folic acid may also improve protection against cancers of the lung, colon, and cervix, and may help slow memory decline associated with aging.

Pregnant women have an increased need for folic acid as it supports the growth of the placenta and fetus, and helps to prevent several types of birth defects, especially those of the brain and spine. Pregnant women and women of child-bearing age should absolutely supplement with folic acid.

What are the implications of a folic acid deficiency?

Deficiency in folic acid is especially detrimental for pregnant women and newborns and has been linked to birth defects, low birth weight, pregnancy loss and cervical dysplasia.  However, folic acid deficiency can also lead to depression and memory loss. Alcoholics, and people living in institutional settings are at a higher risk of vitamin B9 deficiency.

How much folic acid do adults need?

The daily U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 400 micrograms for adults. Most often, folic acid is included in B-Complex supplements that contain a full spectrum of B vitamins, including biotin, thiamin, B12, riboflavin and niacin. Read your B-vitamin bottle and be sure it includes vitamin B9. Pregnant and nursing mothers should consult their doctors for proper dosage.

Is folic acid found in foods?

The answer is yes. Spinach, green vegetables and beans are good sources of vitamin B9, as are fortified products such as orange juice, baked goods, and cereals. Other natural sources of folate include asparagus, bananas, melons, lemons, legumes, yeast, and mushrooms.