Getting the folic acid you need

We can't do without folic acid, a form of vitamin B. Folic acid, sometimes called folate or folicin, provides a range of health benefits for children and adults. And pregnant women who take a folic acid supplement can significantly reduce the risk that their babies will be born with defects to the spine, skull, and brain.

How much folic acid do I need?

Adults need a total of 0.4 mg of folic acid from diet and supplements. Make sure you're getting it every day, since your body can't store this vitamin from one day to the next. You may need more if you smoke, drink alcohol, or take birth control pills.

For two to three months before you become pregnant, it's recommended that you take a supplement containing 0.4 mg of folic acid. Since some pregnancies are unplanned, it's wise to take a folic acid supplement if there's a chance you could become pregnant. Most pregnant women get only about 0.2 mg from the food they eat. A supplement will give you the folic acid boost your baby needs to help with healthy development. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about a supplement that is right for you. If you have diabetes or epilepsy or any family history of neural tube defects such as spina bifida, it's recommended that you take 5 mg of folic acid daily while you're expecting.

Where can I get it?

  • Food: Excellent sources of folic acid include chick peas and lentils, dark green vegetables like spinach and asparagus, and romaine lettuce. Other good sources include liver, broccoli, raspberries, avocado, and whole grains. Be warned, though: over-cooking foods can lower their folic acid levels.
  • Fortified food: White flour, enriched pasta, and cornmeal all have folic acid added to them, increasing your daily intake by about 0.1 mg.
  • Supplements: Most people don't get enough folic acid through their regular diet. Multivitamins containing folic acid can supplement what you're getting from food.

How much is too much?

If you take more folic acid than your body needs, it will usually be eliminated harmlessly in your urine. But, like all supplements, too much of a good thing is never recommended.

Filling up on folic acid can be a problem if you have a vitamin B12 deficiency but don't know it. That's because too much folic acid can affect your blood tests, making it look as though your vitamin B12 levels are normal when they aren't.

Whether you get your folic acid from supplements or foods, you shouldn't take more than 1 mg a day unless otherwise directed by your doctor.

The contents of this health site are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition.

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