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What Is Folic Acid Used For? Benefits Linked With This Vitamin!

By David Mercer

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This article was created after thorough research and has been improved with the assistance of AI technology. Furthermore, our dedicated editorial team has meticulously fact-checked and polished its content for accuracy and clarity.

Folic acid, also recognized as vitamin B9, is a necessary vitamin pivotal for a multitude of bodily functions. Despite its importance, many people are unaware of the numerous benefits that folic acid offers, particularly for pregnant women and individuals with certain health conditions. 

Within this article, we’ll discuss why Folic acid is important for our bodies and how it can be advantageous. Let’s take a look.

Key takeaways:

Folic acid is indispensable for the body, contributing to several health benefits.
It supports red blood cell production, enhances nervous system functions, and aids in DNA synthesis and repair.
When it comes to pregnancy, folic acid plays a particularly vital role in preventing neural tube defects (NTDs) in the developing fetus.

What Is Folic Acid?

Folic acid is a water-soluble B vitamin found naturally in many foods. It is an essential nutrient that the body cannot produce on its own, making it necessary to obtain it through diet or supplementation.

Folic Acid

Folic acid is the form of folate that is most commonly used in supplements and fortified foods due to its higher bioavailability and stability compared to naturally occurring folate.

Difference Between Folate And Folic Acid

While folate and folic acid are often used interchangeably, there is a distinct difference between the two. Folate is the natural form of the vitamin found in foods like leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, and legumes.

On the other hand, folic acid is a synthetic, man-made form that is more stable and easily absorbed by the body. Folic acid is the form typically used in supplements and fortified foods.

Why Is Folic Acid Important?

Folic acid is essential for various bodily functions, including:

➡️ Cell growth and division: Folic acid plays a crucial role in the production and maintenance of new cells, making it vital for tissue growth and development.

➡️ Red blood cell formation: Folic acid is necessary for the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body.

➡️ Nervous system function: It is involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters, which are essential for proper brain function and nervous system health.

➡️ DNA and RNA synthesis: Folic acid is required for the production of DNA and RNA, the building blocks of genetic material.

Health Benefits Of Folic Acid

Folic acid offers numerous benefits to overall health and well-being, including:

  • Supports healthy pregnancy: Adequate folic acid intake before and during pregnancy can significantly reduce the risk of neural tube defects in the developing fetus, such as spina bifida and anencephaly.
  • Promotes red blood cell formation: Folic acid is essential for the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body. Deficiency can lead to anemia and fatigue.
  • Supports cardiovascular health: By regulating homocysteine levels, folic acid may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as stroke and heart disease.
  • Enhances cognitive function: Some studies suggest that folic acid supplementation may improve cognitive function, particularly in older adults, and may reduce the risk of age-related cognitive decline.
  • Aids in cancer prevention: Emerging research indicates that folic acid may play a role in preventing certain types of cancer, such as colorectal cancer, by supporting DNA repair and cell growth regulation.

Why Is Folic Acid Crucial For Pregnant Women?

Folic acid is particularly crucial for pregnant women and those trying to conceive. Adequate folic acid intake before and during pregnancy can significantly reduce the risk of neural tube defects, which are birth defects affecting the brain and spine of the developing fetus.

Folic Acid Is Crucial For Pregnant Women

The recommended daily intake of folic acid for pregnant women is 600-800 micrograms (mcg), which is higher than the recommended amount for non-pregnant women (400 mcg). Many healthcare providers recommend that women start taking a folic acid supplement before becoming pregnant and continue throughout pregnancy to ensure sufficient intake during this critical period.

Summing Up

Folic acid, or vitamin B9, is an essential nutrient that plays a vital role in various bodily functions, from cell growth and division to red blood cell formation and DNA synthesis. Its importance is particularly highlighted during pregnancy, where adequate folic acid intake can significantly reduce the risk of neural tube defects in the developing fetus.

While folic acid can be obtained through a diet rich in leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, and fortified foods, many individuals may benefit from supplementation, particularly those at risk of deficiency or with increased needs, such as pregnant women and individuals with certain health conditions.

By ensuring adequate folic acid intake through a balanced diet and supplementation, if necessary, individuals can support their overall health and well-being, including promoting healthy pregnancy outcomes, preventing anemia, supporting cardiovascular health, and potentially enhancing cognitive function.

FAQs

1. What is the benefit of taking folic acid? 

The primary benefit of taking folic acid is preventing neural tube defects during pregnancy. Additionally, it supports red blood cell formation, cardiovascular health, and cognitive function, and may play a role in cancer prevention.

2. Why would a doctor prescribe folic acid? 

A doctor may prescribe folic acid for several reasons, including preventing neural tube defects during pregnancy, treating certain types of anemia, supporting cardiovascular health, and potentially enhancing cognitive function.

3. When not in a state of pregnancy, what is the role of folic acid?

Even when not pregnant, folic acid is essential for various bodily functions, such as red blood cell formation, DNA synthesis, cell growth and division, and homocysteine regulation. It may also support cognitive function and play a role in cancer prevention.

4. What are the symptoms of low folic acid? 

Symptoms of folic acid deficiency can include fatigue, weakness, irritability, headaches, difficulty concentrating, and a smooth, red tongue. In severe cases, it can lead to megaloblastic anemia, which causes large, immature red blood cells.

5. Are folic acid and B12 the same?

No, folic acid (vitamin B9) and vitamin B12 are two different B vitamins, although they work closely together in various bodily functions. Both are essential for red blood cell formation, DNA synthesis, and proper nerve function.

References

  1. MedlinePlus (n.d) Folic acid in diet Available online at: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002408.htm
  2. National Institutes of Health (n.d) Folate – Fact Sheet for Health Professionals Available online at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/
  3. CDC (n.d) Folic Acid Safety, Interactions, and Effects on Other Outcomes Available online at: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/faqs/faqs-safety.html

David Mercer

Dr. David Mercer is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and general practice. He has over 20 years of experience working in hospital settings, clinics, and private practice providing comprehensive care to patients.

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