Folic acid is a type of B vitamin. It is the man-made (synthetic) form of folate that is found in supplements and added to fortified foods. Folic acid works with other vitamins, such as vitamins C and B-12, to:
- Create, break down and use proteins;
- Produce DNA;
- Form red blood cells;
- Helps digest food by stimulating creation of digestive acids.
- During puberty, when pre-teen and teen bodies are growing and changing rapidly;
- Before and during the first few weeks of pregnancy, when the embryo’s brain and spine are first developing.
Folic Acid and Physical Health
Research is finding that getting enough folic acid may have many potential benefits. Taking a multi-vitamin with the RDA for folic acid may:
- Prevent certain types of anemia;
- Lower the risk of some esophageal, stomach, ovarian, and breast cancers;
- Support heart health and reducing the risk of stroke;
- Improve the health of your gums;
- Protect against cell aging and an eye condition called macular degeneration in older adults.
Folic Acid and Mental Well-Being
Folate plays a crucial role in brain health. Folic acid supplements (vitamins) can have a positive effect on certain brain receptors that influence mood. Research has shown a link between depression and low folate levels. While more studies are needed, getting enough folic acid may have the following benefits:
- Help the body handle stress;
- Lower your risk for depression;
- Enhance mental function and short-term memory.
Folic Acid Deficiency
Because folic acid is water-soluble (dissolves in water), leftover amounts leave the body through the urine. This means your body does not store folic acid and you need a continuous supply to maintain health. Even a few weeks of a diet low in this nutrient can decrease the amount of folate in your blood. While generally not life-threatening, folic acid deficiency may cause:
- Gray hair
- Mouth sores (ulcers)
- Poor growth
- Swollen tongue
- Mental confusion
Many things can increase the risk of blood folate deficiency, including:
- Diseases which make it difficult to absorb nutrients, such as celiac or Crohn’s disease;
- Smoking or drinking too much alcohol;
- Eating overcooked food;
- Certain medications, including some diuretics, anti-inflammatory drugs, anticonvulsant medications, and metformin, which helps regulate blood sugar in type 2 diabetes.
- National Institutes of Health, December 2012, Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Folate, http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/folate.asp
- U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus, February 2011: Folic Acid in Diet, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002408.htm
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 2011: Facts About Folic Acid, http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/about.html
- Wikipedia, last updated December 2012, Folic Acid, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Folic_acid
- Florida Folic Acid Coalition / University of Florida, accessed December 2012, Folic Acid and You: Children and Teenagers, http://www.folicacidnow.net/folic_acid_and_you/for_teens.shtml
- Nilsson, Torbjörn K. MD, PhD et al., July 2011. “High Folate Intake Is Related to Better Academic Achievement in Swedish Adolescents,” Pediatrics: 10.1542/peds.2010-1481. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2011/07/06/peds.2010-1481
If you’re the parent of a teen girl…
According to the U.S. Public Health Services, getting enough folate is especially important for pre-teen and teen girls. Not only are their bodies growing rapidly, but some studies found that:
- Girls who had higher blood folate levels did better in school;
- Women who had high blood folate levels in their teens, had better birth outcomes as adults.
Download a Go Folic! Info for Parents fact sheet to learn more:
Free Go Folic! Multi-Vitamins
Because folic acid is so important to health, women between the ages of 14-54 who live in San Francisco can get free multi-vitamins with 400 mcg of folic acid from the San Francisco Department of Public Health.