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Getting Enough Folic Acid

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What is folic acid?

Folic acid is one of the B vitamins your body needs for good health. Getting enough of this vitamin prevents folic acid deficiency anemia. It also prevents certain birth defects.

The vitamin is also called folate, but there is a difference:

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  • Folate is the natural form of this vitamin. It's found in food.
  • Folic acid is the man-made form. It's put into vitamin pills and fortified foods, such as fortified breakfast cereals.

Most people just say "folic acid" for either form of this vitamin.

What is the recommended daily amount of folic acid?

Most people can get the amount of folic acid they need by eating a well balanced diet.

Daily recommended folic acid:1
Category Age Daily amount of folic acid

Babies

0–6 months

65 mcg (micrograms)

7–12 months

80 mcg

Children

1–3 years

150 mcg

4–8 years

200 mcg

9–13 years

300 mcg

Older children and adults

Over 13 years

400 mcg

Do some women need more folic acid?

Although the recommended amount of folic acid for all adults is 400 mcg a day, many doctors recommend higher amounts for women who are able to get pregnant. This is because folic acid plays a big role in preventing birth defects.

Women who don't get enough folic acid before and during pregnancy are more likely to have a child born with a birth defect, such as:

Folic Acid Supplement Recommendations for Women
Category Daily amount of folic acid (folate)

Pregnant women2

600 mcg

Breast-feeding women2

500 mcg

Women who are able to get pregnant3

400 mcg to 800 mcg

If you're breast-feeding, getting this extra folic acid will make sure that your baby gets the folic acid he or she needs to stay healthy.

Here's an odd fact: The man-made form of this vitamin is actually absorbed better by our bodies than the natural form is. So even if a woman eats a well balanced diet, she may not get the extra folic acid she needs to prevent birth defects unless she also takes a supplement.

It can be hard for women to get extra folic acid from food. So experts say that all women who are able to get pregnant should take a daily supplement that has 400 to 800 mcg of folic acid.3

Some women need even higher doses.

  • Women who are pregnant with twins or more should take 1000 mcg a day.4
  • Women who have a family history of neural tube defects, who have already had a baby with a neural tube defect, or who are on medicines for seizures should take 4000 mcg a day. 5

Follow your doctor's advice about how to get higher amounts of folic acid. Don't just take more multivitamins. You could get too much of the other substances that are in the multivitamin.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: December 18, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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