The difference between folate and folic acid is that folate is the common form of vitamin B9 and folic acid is synthesized. In either case, folate helps to form DNA and RNA and produce healthy red blood cells. It can be especially important for pregnant women, so let’s take a closer look.
What is Folate?
Folate is the natural form of vitamin B9 and is found naturally in many of the foods we eat. Folate is important for breaking down homocysteine, an amino acid that has harmful effects on the body if present in high amounts. As we shared above, folate is necessary to produce healthy red blood cells, especially in times of rapid growth, like pregnancy.
What is Folic Acid?
Folic acid is folate, but synthetic — meaning it can be synthetically added to your food, or as a separate oral supplement. In fact, folic acid is better absorbed than natural folate. The Harvard School of Public Health shares that 85% of folic acid is absorbed into the body versus 50% of folate in food sources.
The National Birth Defects Prevention Network notes that when folic acid is taken before and in the early stages of pregnancy, that it can prevent up to 70% of birth defects that affect the brain and spine. That’s a powerful statistic!
How Much Folic Acid Do I Need?
Men and women ages 19 and older, should consume about 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily.
Women who are pregnant should consume between 400-800 mcg of folic acid daily. There are certain instances where more folic acid is needed. Be sure to ask your doctor about how much folic acid is right for you, especially if you have a family history of birth defects.
It is very rare to have a folate deficiency due to the large amount of it found naturally in the foods we eat. However, if you have any of the following conditions, you could be at an increased risk:
- Celiac Disease
- History of intestinal Surgeries
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Genetic carrier of the MTHFR mutation
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, you may also be lacking in folate:
- Shortness of breath
- Irregular heartbeat
- Hair loss
- Pale skin
- Mouth sores
How and Where Do I Get Folic Acid?
In 1998, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required manufacturers to begin adding folic acid to foods we commonly eat in order to reduce the risk of brain defects. Since then, the average daily intake of folic acid has increased by 100 mcg.
Excellent sources of folate include:
- Dark, leafy greens (spinach, asparagus, broccoli, brussels sprouts, etc.)
- Sunflower seeds
- Fresh fruit
If needed, you can also purchase multivitamins that contain folic acid.
Folic Acid Awareness Week is Jan. 5 through Jan. 11, and during this time, it is especially important to be aware of the symptoms associated with its deficiency and why it is crucial for pregnant women.
Ask your doctor for a blood test to determine your folic acid level and whether you should add more to your daily intake.
Folic acid is an important daily vitamin for men and women because of its role in producing healthy red blood cells that carry fresh oxygen throughout the body. This is something to keep in mind, especially in the midst of the cold and flu season.
Download our guide, “How to Get Rid of the Flu (Or Not Get It At All),” to learn more about how to stay healthy this season.