Folic Acid Facts

What is Folic Acid?

Folic acid, or folate, is a B vitamin needed to produce DNA. Every cell and tissue in the body needs folic acid. This is especially important during periods of rapid cell growth such as infancy and pregnancy. In early pregnancy, folic acid protects the infant from birth defects.

Folic Acid requirements

The RDA for folic acid is 400 micrograms /day. The requirement is called DFE (Dietary Folate Equivalent) to account for the differences in absorption of natural folate from food compared to synthetic folate from supplements. The folate from supplements and fortified foods is better absorbed. The DFE is a mathematical measure to account for the difference. The RDA for pregnant women is 600 micrograms /day, which is considerably higher than for women who are not pregnant. Heavy use of alcohol increases the need for folic acid.

What happens when Folic Acid intake is too high?

There are no ill effects from an excessive intake of folate from food. A Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) is set at 1,000 micrograms a day for synthetic folic acid from pills and fortified foods. High levels of synthetic folate can worsen the neurological damage of a vitamin B12 deficiency.

What happens when Folic Acid intake is too low?

A deficiency of folate results in impaired production of DNA, which leads to anemia, poor growth, and skin lesions. General weakness, fatigue, depression, gastrointestinal problems, and frequent infections may occur. A folate deficiency in early pregnancy is associated with birth defects known as "neural tube defects."

Which foods are high in Folic Acid?

Some fortified ready-to-eat cereals, dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, etc.), orange juice, asparagus, winter squash, beets, cantaloupe, broccoli, lentils, and peanuts. Beef liver is the highest source. Many foods provide almost no folic acid.
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