What is Folic Acid?

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There are lots of benefits of folic acid including helping to ensure a healthy pregnancy & it can also help prevent anaemia. Find out all you need to know here.

folic acid labelsIf you’ve ever read the label on something like bread or pasta, it’s highly likely you’ve heard of folic acid. The mere mention of an ‘acid’ in your food may initially cause alarm and make you wonder “what is folic acid?”, but we assure you it’s completely safe and the fact it’s in your food is a good thing! There are numerous benefits of folic acid including helping to ensure a healthy pregnancy and it can also help to prevent anaemia. Read on and find out all you need to know.

What is folic acid?

Folic acid is the synthetic version of folate, also known as vitamin B9. Its primary role is to help the body make red blood cells and if you’re deficient in it you can develop a type of anaemia known as folate deficiency anaemia.

Where does folic acid come from?

Folic acid is often added to foods such as cereals, flour, bread, pasta and baked goods. Some foods are naturally high in it too including leafy vegetables, asparagus, okra, beans, yeast, mushrooms, animal liver and kidney and even orange and tomato juice! As it’s present in so many foods, a deficiency is rare, but a supplement version can be taken if you’re not getting enough in your diet.

How can you take folic acid?

If you’re taking folic acid as a supplement, there’s a few different ways you can take it:

  • Orally: in its liquid form you can take it orally
  • Injection: carried out by a healthcare professional either directly into the muscle, under the skin or into a vein
  • Tablets: this is one of the most common ways folic acid is taken as a supplement

If you need to take folic acid, your doctor or pharmacist will be able to recommend the best solution for you.

3 top benefits of folic acid

Aside from helping your body to make red blood cells, there are many other benefits of folic acid, some of the main advantages include:

1.     Helps with a healthy pregnancy and prenatal development

pregnant woman taking folic acidFolic acid is often taken as a prenatal supplement and for good reason! Folate deficiency during pregnancy can lead to neural tube irregularities like spina bifida and anencephaly. Having the correct levels of folate in your body helps to ensure the correct development of your baby’s brain, skull and spinal cord. Additionally, it may also help to reduce risks of preterm birth, heart problems and cleft palate, but studies are still being conducted in this area.

2.     Could help with depression

One of the benefits of folic acid is that it may help with depression. In some cases, people with lower levels in their system are more likely to experience depression, additionally, it may also make certain medications for treating the condition more effective.

3.     It can reduce side effects of arthritis medications

Methotrexate is a medication that’s commonly given to treat rheumatoid arthritis. However, a side effect of this treatment is that it can remove folate from the body and cause gastrointestinal symptoms. A study carried out where subjects were given folic acid supplements found that 79% of patients experienced a reduced risk of gastrointestinal issues and mouth sores.

foods rich in folic acidRecommended amounts of folic acid

The amount of folic acid you should have depends on why you’re taking it to begin with. The current recommended amounts folate from the NHS are as follows:

  • Pregnant/people trying to get pregnant: 400mcg once per day. If you’re at risk of neural tube defects during pregnancy, your doctor may recommend a higher dosage of 5mg. It’s important to take these supplements both before and during pregnancy.
  • Treating folate deficiency anaemia: adults and children over one should receive 5mg once per day for a period of 4 months. Children under a year will need to be weighed to determine the correct dosage.
  • Preventing folate deficiency anaemia: adults and children over 12 should take 5mg every one to seven days.
  • Whilst taking methotrexate: if you’re taking this medication, you should take 5mg once per week and this must be taken on a different day to your methotrexate.

Folic acid side effects

Where they’re not common, sometimes side effects may occur from taking folic acid. The most likely ones you may encounter are as follows:

  • Nausea (if you’re pregnant this might be caused by morning sickness)
  • Lack of appetite
  • Bloating
  • Wind

If your side effects don’t go away, consult a pharmacist or doctor.

Now you know what folic acid is and the benefits that go with it! Want to find out more about other vitamins and supplements? Learn what vitamin B2 is, next.







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