Folic acid is important for pregnancy. But here’s why everyone can benefit from this vitamin.

If you’re pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant in the not-too-distant future, you probably already know how important it is to take a supplement containing folic acid.

Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate, or Vitamin B9. This essential nutrient aids in the production and maintenance of new cells. It helps form red blood cells and creates new DNA. It helps prevent birth defects of the spinal cord and brain, referred to as neural tube defects. It has also been associated with a reduced risk of congenital heart defects and may lower the risk of having a premature birth. That’s why pregnant women need to get enough of it.

Why do you need folic acid if you’re not pregnant?

For starters, 40% of pregnancies across the globe are unplanned. So taking folic acid if you’re a woman, even if you’re not pregnant, helps ensure you have adequate levels of folate for a developing fetus before you find out you’re pregnant.

In addition to its important role during pregnancy, research indicates folic acid may play a preventative role in autism, type-2 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. A deficiency in this vitamin may increase the risk of depression, allergic diseases, anemia and low bone density. It may also impact memory and brain function.

Getting enough folate is something you need to do every day. That’s because it’s a water-soluble vitamin and is not stored in the body.

How do you make sure you get enough folate in your diet?

You can get folate naturally from foods, including dark green leafy vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, citrus juices and egg yolks, as well as fortified breads and cereals.

Folic acid in vitamins or supplements is more easily absorbed than the folate you get from food. It’s generally recommended that non-pregnant women and men get 400 mcg daily, pregnant women get 600 mcg and breastfeeding women get 500 mcg.

Some people may be advised to take higher doses, including those with a family history of neural tube defects, as well as individuals who take certain medications for cancer, epilepsy or autoimmune diseases.

It’s important to speak with your primary doctor to determine the best recommendation for you.

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Date Last Reviewed: November 16, 2018

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Nora Minno, RD, CDN

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