Folic acid plays a major role related to the body’s metabolic reactions and our nervous system functions. We need folic acid to sustain good health. More important, our bodies depend on it daily. One of its primary purposes is essential for DNA synthesis, by helping to form and reproduce red blood cells and then distribute the healthy blood cells throughout the body. When the levels of folic acid are sufficient, these internal process aids in preventing anemia, birth defects and several health conditions.
As a B vitamin, folic acid falls into the water-soluble category in contrast to fat-soluble vitamins. Linked to its health value is the body’s need to absorb the proper amounts daily to keep body functions working properly. Both the medical and nutritional industries recognize its contribution to well-being and health treatments related to several health conditions.
Ongoing research continues to reassess the existing facts on folic acid and its health benefits. The information shares both history and current findings about the necessities and benefits of folic acid in our daily diets.
Most of us eat natural foods containing folate or foods enriched with folic acid. You will find the industry term “enriched” on food labels. Today’s, lifestyle trends have changed our diets with more focus on healthy living. Day-to-day activities now include multi-vitamin supplements to help meet the daily recommend amounts (RDA) of folic acid.
What is Folic Acid?
Folate is the natural form of vitamin B9 found in food. The synthetic supplement is folic acid. You find folate in natural plants and folic acid in enhanced grains. As part of the B-Complex vitamin group, it helps the body convert carbohydrates into fuel for energy. We can thank folic acid for keeping our liver, skin, hair and eyes healthy. Our brain and nervous systems rely on folic acid for mental and emotional health support.
As of now, folic acid does not appear to have potential side effects by itself, because our body functions simply eliminate any excess amounts. Even with this auto-precaution, you do need to monitor RDA the dosage.
- Supplement forms are folate, folic acid or L-methyl folate.
- Folic acid is the most common.
- Attributes of folic acid working with B12 maintain the proper levels of iron.
- Both B9 and B12 work with B6 preventing and improving heart conditions.
What is amazing about this vitamin is its ability to prevent and reduce health conditions that affect our lives as we mature. Developing healthy eating habits early in our lives generally stays with us through all of the challenges life poses. Teenagers seem to grow-up overnight on the outside, the internal growth functions still need the assistance of folic acid.
Young girls need folic acid as they prepare for future motherhood. Like adults getting the regulated measure of folic acid needs to be part of the daily routine because our bodies do not store folate or folic acid. As our body transitions from childhood to adulthood folic acid continues its role, ensuring our body functions operate properly. Pregnant women are more dependent on these functions through each stage of development awaiting the birth of a child.
No matter how old we are, as busy as life gets, if you are skipping breakfast you may not be getting enough folic acid or folate. Skipping breakfast is more common than we think, so supplements of folic acid can help to maintain the daily portions. Combined with the folate foods we eat, supplements keep the production of red blood cells needed to survive the bumps and bruises that come with getting older.
Folic Acid for Pregnant Women and Dosage
Studies show women taking folic acid before pregnancy gave birth to healthier children. The findings report significant reductions in serious birth defects. Folic acid is an essential nutrient if you are trying to conceive or are now pregnant. Too many women in this age range fail to get enough folic acid in their diet. A healthy and well-balanced diet comprised of natural fruits, vegetable, grains and nuts does make a difference.
The suggested RDA for women is 400 micrograms (mcg) daily, increasing to 800 micrograms for pregnant women. You need to meet with your doctor, since individual health and genetics vary. Some women may need higher doses. If you have trouble swallowing, there are chewable and liquid forms available. The old standby for taking hard to swallow supplements or medications is to crush the tablets between two spoons, add some water and swallow. Always consider your health condition when changing the amount of supplements – since the recommended measure of folic acid daily will vary from person to person:
- Pregnant or trying to get pregnant — you need 400 to 800 micrograms. A doctor may prescribe a prenatal vitamin.
- Breast-feeding – 500 micrograms
- Existing health conditions – diabetes, epilepsy arthritis or kidney disease – talk with your doctor.
Special health conditions and history of genetic birth defects may need up to 4000 micrograms of folic acid. It is important to meet with your doctor to discuss the precautions associated with this level of dosage.
Low Folic Acid Discoveries on Increased Rate of Birth Defects
Insufficient supplies of folic acid can cause serious risk of birth defects with lifelong disabilities to the infant. If the pregnancy was unplanned, see your doctor because birth defects develop in the fetus during the first few weeks of pregnancy. In most cases, getting folate from food alone is not enough during pregnancy. Your doctor will help you give birth to a healthy child.
Persistent medical research and prenatal studies on the benefits of folic acid uncover amazing protection abilities to a woman’s fetus. The findings offer prevention against life-threatening birth defects of the brain and spine related to neural tube birth defects (NTD). Facts show that by consuming the RDA of folic acid before conception and through the first month of pregnancy, helped to prevent more than 70 percent of NTD birth defects.
NTD occurs in over 3,000 pregnancies in the United States each year. The defect develops as a tiny flat ribbon and turns into a tube by the end of the first month. It can cause serious problems for the unborn child resulting in death. Healthy childbearing aged women need to take at least 400 micrograms of folic acid every single day, if you are planning to conceive.
- Family history of NTD adds risk of having a baby with NTD.
- Having one child affected by NTD increases the chance by four percent of having a second child with NTD.
- Having two NTD children raises the change by 10 percent of having another NTD baby.
If you have a family history of NTD, it is vital to see a doctor before getting pregnant. Women should continue to check their intake of 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. If you have a pattern of low folate levels, meet with your doctor to discuss the right RDA to support good health for you and your unborn child. Your doctor or nurse can help with the proper dose as the pregnancy progresses.
Women’s Demographics on Awareness of Folic Acid Health Benefits
Early studies supported by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention showed the highest risk of birth defects among Hispanic American and African American women. The cause is not getting enough folic acid into their diets. The report concluded that one in three African American women do not get the folic acid RDA each day. It went on to confirm that Mexican American rarely get enough folic acid. The report indicated culture groups were less aware of the prenatal need for folic acid and the necessity to maintain the recommended doses throughout the pregnancy.
- Since the late 1990s, the awareness of folic acid prenatal benefits has increased across the United States.
National programs increasing the awareness of folic acid health benefits during the early 2000s showed an increase of seven percent. By 2010, studies reported, our nation’s health for women awareness on the importance of folic acid RDA increased among this demographic dramatically. The outreach studies and programs designed for reproductive aged women continues to educate all groups of women about the health benefits folic acid offers their future children.
Folic Acid for Hair Growth and Dosage
According to the medical industry, there is no scientific evidence to support folic acid preventing the loss of hair. Medical does support the fact that folic acid may slow the rate of hair loss. Nutritionists agree there are several contributing factors responsible for hair loss.
- Health conditions
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Natural aging process
- Side effects from medications and health treatments
Folic acid plays a role in keeping hair and skin healthy, but staying healthy comes down to maintaining the right diet, regular exercise and the daily dose of nutrients. While there are no human tests, veterinarian lab experiments and studies note when deficiencies of folic acid improve in animals so did the hair growth. The question of the day is; did the increase of folic acid, replace the hair or did it replace the deficiency prompting the body to rebuild through metabolizing?
Though it is not an accepted belief, the idea that folic acid deficiencies can cause hair loss or slow growth involves the lack of oxygen to the blood cells responsible for hair growth. Deficiency does turn hair strands gray in younger adults. Graying is a natural process of aging, you cannot reverse the process in maturing adults no matter how much folic acid you consume.
Top Folic Acid Foods
For most of us, reading food labels is the last thing on our minds when we are hungry. If you take the time, you will understand the complexities of food nutrients and discover a wide range of natural foods to satisfy the RDA for folic acid. Each food group provides an ample supply of nutrients, yet pregnant women, older adults and active individuals discover their diets have deficiencies of folic acid. You can choose from a variety of folate foods. Be sure to account for proper portions when thinking about the nutritional amounts. How the food is prepared and the serving sizes can change folate values.
Natural Food Groups
- Nuts –hazelnuts, walnuts, chestnuts, filberts, peanuts, almonds
- Beans – kidney, white, lima, mung, lentils, soybeans, garbanzo, navy, split peas
- Poultry – chicken, turkey
- Beef liver, chicken giblets, egg yolks
- Seafood – salmon, mollusks, crustaceans
- Dairy – milk, cottage cheese, yogurt
- Citrus – oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, raspberries and juices made from these fruits.
- Avocado, banana, papaya, peaches, mangos
- Tomato juice
- Leafy greens- spinach, mustard greens, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, romaine lettuce
- Broccoli, asparagus, peas, corn, carrots, squash, celery, carrots, okra, cauliflower, sweet potato
- Roots – turnips, beets
Fortified or Enriched Food Groups
- Breads, pastas, cereals
- Flours, cornmeal, corn masa,
- White rice, brewer’s yeast
- Whole grains, wheat germ, bulgur wheat
Added Nutrients for Strengthening Healthy Foods
Dark leafy greens have high concentrations of folate and the natural moisture in these foods; making them perfect for steaming on stovetops or in the microwave. Just be sure not to overcook them, you will lose the high content of nutrients.
Foods enriched or fortified with folic acid are our first meals of the day; breakfast cereals, breads and enriched flour recipes. The manufacturers of these foods have added the nutrients. Take the time to read the labels, no two brands are the same. It helps to understand the distinction between enriched and fortified. During the manufacturing and handling process, nutrients are lost. Enriched food products have added nutrients. Fortified foods do not always have the natural nutrients and need to have the vitamins and minerals added. Both food types offer the nutrients needed for a healthy diet.
In 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) identified major food groups consumed by the U.S. population. Today, the grocery stores stock the shelves with fortified and enriched foods. Breads, cereals, pastas and flour are now required to have folic acid added to them as part of the FDA fortification program. The goal was to increase the public’s RDA consumption. By 2016, the FDA approved the addition of folic acid to corn masa, making it consistent with other enriched grain foods. It was also a major contribution of folic acid to an abundant food source for Mexican American women.
Dietary Supplements for Proper Nutrients
Growing children need folic acid and healthcare providers do suggest meeting with an experienced physician before adding folic acid supplements to their daily diet. A balanced diet consisting of the folate foods listed ensures the daily nutrients. The National Institutes of Health on dietary supplement recommend the following RDA:
- Infants, 0 to 6 months: 65 mcg
- Infants, 7 to 12 months: 80 mcg
- Children, 1 to 3 years: 150 mcg
- Children, 4 to 8 years: 200 mcg
- Children, 9 to 13 years: 300 mcg
- Teens, 14 to 18 years: 400 mcg
- Teens – 14 to 18 years – Pregnant 600 mcg, breast feeding 500 mcg
Adults – 19 years and older
- Men 400 mcg
- Women – Pregnant 600 mcg, breast feeding 500 mcg
Health Precautions, Warnings and Side Effects
The FDA and medical organizations post information on health precautions, medication warnings and the potential side effects daily with effects ranging from serious to uncomfortable. It is important to pay attention to these precautions; you are dealing with your health. Every single one of us responds differently, depending on individual genetics and health conditions.
The chemical structures of medications mixed with the individual’s health condition trigger the reactions. Taking large doses of folic acid may not cause any serious side effects, but if you are taking other medications or have allergies, always take precautions. Alcohol and particular foods affect the body’s gastrointestinal system and blood levels. These two systems help to keep our body working. Excessive amounts or bad combinations lead to a reaction.
Lifestyle choices will also affect how the body responds to foods and medications. For example, firsthand and secondhand smoke lowers the levels of folic acid in the body. Health studies report that folic acid levels were 20% lower in smokers compared to nonsmokers. People exposed to heavy secondhand smoke had lower folate levels compared to light exposure of secondhand smoke.
Health and Diet Precautions
Most of the studies by authoritative agencies have proven low levels of folic acid are common in all the demographics. The lack of knowledge is not always the reason for low level of folate. In some cases, alcohol or inflammatory bowel diseases cause folic acid deficiency and celiac disease prevents the body from absorbing folic acid. Individuals eating protein found in wheat, rye and barley foods cause the body’s immune system to attack the small intestine. Potential side effects involving folic acid deficiency related to these health conditions include:
- Loss of appetite
- Tongue inflammation
Over three million women in the United States suffer with anemia. Folate deficiency anemia happens from not eating food rich in the folate or their bodies have trouble absorbing it. This deficiency involves our blood supply and the symptoms will vary:
- Pale skin
Your doctor may prescribe supplements to help your body absorb folic acid or specific foods to remedy your condition. Just be careful with supplements and fortified foods injected with folic acid – too much may set off reactions, even though it is water-soluble.
Low and High Level Warnings
Not getting enough folic acid can cause health problems. Low folic acid is responsible causing problems during pregnancy with potential birth defects. In 1998, studies showed folic acid as an effective prevention supplement for reducing birth defects. As a result, doctors increase the amount of folic acid and the food industry increased food fortification. Pregnant women need to get the right quantity of folate in your body. It aids in the development of a healthy fetus. Expecting mothers should be concentrating on her own levels of folic acid throughout the pregnancy.
The other side of deficiency is an excess supply of folic acid. When women consume large amounts through supplements or fortified foods, some individuals have difficulty in breaking down the folic acid. It becomes non-metabolized folic acid and when it enters the bloodstream, it can cause other health conditions. Cancer is one of those conditions. Although it may be rare, individual reactions to high doses of folic acid can cause:
- Stomach problems
- Sleep disorders
Folic Acid Side Effects
Our health conditions and genetics are as individual as each one of us. So are our reactions to foods, vitamins and medications. It is important to speak with your doctor because the exterior symptoms may hide conditions that are more serious. When untreated health conditions cause an imbalance in the body’s functions and systems. Bottom-line, you will not get the results you are expecting – you need to find your comfort zone.
It is a good idea to speak with your doctor before changing your health routines. If you are taking medications, your doctor can tell you the best time for taking medications. Some medications interfere with the absorption of folic acid, and folic acid may interrupt the effectiveness of the medicine. It may be as simple and scheduling the time you take either or adjusting the dosage.
Folic Acid is Helping Women’s Health Conditions
Surveys report women with enough levels of folate in their diets are at less risk for many health conditions. The evidence pointed out the fact that folic acid may prevent cancer by keeping our DNA healthy and preventing mutated cells from developing into cancer. Learning how to watch your body’s folate levels can help to prevent and lower the risks of cancer. Women’s rates of cancer have increased:
- Breast Cancer
- Cervical Cancer
- Colon Cancer
- Pancreatic Cancer
University researchers report women with accurate levels of folate at less risk to develop cervical cancer. Nurses’ Health Study followed women taking folic acid for 15 years and found it reduced their risk of colon cancer by over 70 percent. Women who consumed alcohol had a greater risk of developing breast cancer. You can see for yourself, the risks can be reduced with the proper levels of folic acid are added to your diet.
The results will vary from woman to woman, but it is a clear that folate has helped to prolong life.
The rate of heart disease in women surpassed men in 2008 so did the mortality rate. More than 100,000 women died from this disease compared to men. The right amount of folate in your diet can protect the heart. Folic acid has been able to lower amino acid homocysteine, which is associated with reducing coronary artery disease. A high level of homocysteine does contribute to hardening of the arteries.
Over the past years, studies, research and surveys have shown the results when our diets contain the right measure of folic acid. Check with your doctor, eating foods high in folate are usually healthier than taking folic acid supplements, but the supplement is an additive or an alternative helping to provide the nourishment our bodies need to stay healthy. No matter what socio-economic group you belong to, lifestyle and health characteristics appear to improvement consistently when adults consume the RDA of folate through natural food sources combined with folic acid supplements.