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Folic acid is a B vitamin that's important for cell growth and metabolism. Studies show that many people in the U.S. don't get enough folic acid.

Don't be confused by the terms folate and folic acid. They have the same effects. Folate is the natural version found in foods. Folic acid is the man-made version in supplements and added to foods.

Why do people take folic acid?

Folic acid supplements are standard for pregnant women and women who plan to become pregnant. Folic acid reduces the risk for birth defects of a baby’s brain and spine -- spina bifida and anencephaly -- by 50% to 70%. Folic acid may also lower the risk of preeclampsia and early labor. Many doctors recommend that any woman of childbearing age take either a multivitamin or a folic acid supplement. Folic acid can protect against birth defects that may form before a woman knows she is pregnant.

Folic acid is used to treat deficiencies, which can cause certain types of anemia and other problems. Folate deficiencies are more common in people who have digestive problems, kidney or liver disease, or who abuse alcohol. When used to treat deficiencies, folic acid should be used along with vitamin B12. In addition to treating anemia, they work together to promote neurological health. Folic acid is also used to reduce the toxicity of the drug methotrexate in psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis patients.

Folic acid supplements have been studied as treatments for many other conditions. So far, the results of these studies have been inconclusive.

How much folic acid should you take?

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) includes the folic acid you get from both the food you eat and any supplements you take.

 

Category

Folate (Folic Acid)

Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)

For children under 1, only an adequate intake (AI) is available
0-6 months
65 micrograms/day

Adequate Intake (AI)
7-12 months
80 micrograms/day

Adequate Intake (AI)
1-3 years
150 micrograms/day
4-8 years
200 micrograms/day
9-13 years
300 micrograms/day
14 years and up
400 micrograms/day
Pregnant women
600 micrograms/day
Breastfeeding

women
500 micrograms/day

The tolerable upper intake levels (UL) of a supplement are the highest amount that most people can take safely. Higher doses might be used to treat folic acid deficiencies. But don't take more unless a doctor says so.

 

Category

(Children & Adults)
Folate (Folic Acid)

Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (UL)
1-3 years 300 micrograms/day
4-8 years 400 micrograms/day
9-13 years 600 micrograms/day
14-18 years 800 micrograms/day
19 years and up 1,000 micrograms/day

 

Can you get folic acid naturally from foods?

Good sources of folic acid are:

  • Leafy green vegetables, like spinach, broccoli, and lettuce
  • Beans, peas, and lentils
  • Fruits like lemons, bananas, and melons
  • Fortified and enriched products, like some breads, juices, and cereals

What are the risks of taking folic acid?

  • Side effects. Folic acid is generally regarded as safe. Side effects are rare. High doses of folic acid can cause nausea, bloating, gas, and insomnia.
  • Interactions. High doses of folic acid can block the effects of some seizure medicines. If you take any regular medicines, ask how they will affect your intake of folic acid. Many -- like diabetes drugs, sleeping pills, and some antibiotics -- can lower the amount of folic acid you absorb.
  • Risks. Folic acid can sometimes mask the symptoms of serious and dangerous deficiencies of vitamin B12.

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