Mary Calvagna, MS
The B vitamin folate, also called folic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin. Water-soluble vitamins are stored in the body in very limited amounts and are excreted through the urine. Therefore, it is a good idea to have them in your daily diet. Folate is considered a crucial vitamin before and during pregnancy. Research has shown that folate deficiencies during pregnancy can lead to
birth defects in babies.
Folate's functions include:
Folate deficiency is a common vitamin deficiency that can occur for a variety of reasons, including:
The following populations may be at risk of folate deficiency and may require a supplement:
Folate deficiency may lead to:
In 1991, a landmark study found a relationship between folate and birth defects. Subsequent research has supported the finding that adequate folate intake during the period before and just after conception protects against a number of neural tube defects, including
The crucial period is before and very early after conception—a time when most women do not know they are pregnant. Therefore, the recommendation is that all women of childbearing age make sure they have a folate intake of at least 400 mcg.
There is a variety of foods that contain folate. Some foods, like cereal, rice, and flour, are fortified with folate. Here is a list of major food sources and their folate content.
To help increase your intake of folate:
There can be too much of a good thing. While there is no upper limit for ingesting folate found naturally in foods, but there are recommended intake limits for folate consumed from fortified foods and supplements:
Large doses of folate can mask symptoms of a different type of vitamin deficiency called
B12 deficiency. A B12 deficiency causes some similar symptoms as folate deficiency, but it can also cause damage to the nervous system. Folate supplementation will mask the B12 deficiency by relieving the anemia-associated symptoms but not decreasing damage to the nervous system. This is why it is important that you talk to your doctor before you take a folate supplement. A blood test will help determine if your folate and vitamin B12 levels are appropriate or low. It may be necessary for you to take vitamin B12 supplements along with the folate. Talk to your doctor before starting any vitamin supplement to make sure it is appropriate for you.
Choose My Plate.gov—US Department of Agriculture
Eat Right.org—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Dietitians of Canada
Duyff RL. The American Dietetic Association's Complete Food & Nutrition Guide. 3rd ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.; 2006.
Folate. Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health website. Available at: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional. Updated December 14, 2012. Accessed March 6, 2014.
Folate, DFE (µg) content of selected foods per common measure, sorted by nutrient content. USDA national nutritional database for standard reference, release 25. US Department of Agriculture website. Available at: https://www.ars.usda.gov/SP2UserFiles/Place/12354500/Data/SR25/nutrlist/sr25w435.pdf. Accessed March 6, 2014.
Folate deficiency. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 16, 2013. Accessed March 6, 2014.
Folic acid. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 28, 2013. Accessed March 6, 2014.
Garrison R, Somer E.
The Nutrition Desk Reference. New Canaan, CT: Keats Publishing; 1995.
Last reviewed March 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
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