Everything You Need to Know About Folic Acid
If you’ve been pregnant before or want to have a baby, you’ve probably heard about the benefits of folic acid. But did you know that all women can benefit from taking it?
In this blog post, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about folic acid treatment - what it is, why you need it and how to get the best folic acid through food and supplements.
What is folic acid?
Folate and folic acid are forms of vitamin B9. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate (the type you’ll most likely find in a supplement) while folate is the natural form found in food.
What is folic acid needed for? Folic acid plays an important role in our body and yet, we can’t make it on our own, so we need to get it through food and supplements. It’s necessary for the production of red blood cells and for the functioning of the nerves, and it is very important for the development of the nervous system of the baby growing inside you.
Why should I take folic acid?
Folic acid is most often used by women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant. Why do pregnant women need folic acid? It’s because it is proven to help prevent serious brain and spinal birth defects like spina bifida. That’s why it’s recommended to all pregnant women and found in all prenatal supplements. Some studies have also shown that women who take folic acid have a more regular menstrual cycle.
But folic acid also has lots of other benefits. Taking it regularly can help keep your blood healthy by helping red blood cells form and grow. Folic acid is also used for many other conditions like depression, stroke, a decline in memory or cognitive skills and many others.
How do you know if you need folic acid?
Folate performs several important functions in the body like keeping your nervous system healthy. How can you know if your folic acid is low? Be on the lookout for some telltale symptoms. When you’re not getting enough folate, it can cause a wide range of problems like extreme tiredness, lack of energy, muscle weakness, depression, confusion or problems with memory, understanding or judgment.
Deficiencies can also present in other more serious ways like mouth sores, infertility and Alzheimer’s Disease. And of course, not taking it while pregnant can increase the risk of birth defects.
The side effects of not getting enough folate are very real, but the guud news is that upping your intake of folic acid is very easy, both through supplements and through food.
How much folic acid does a woman need?
The general guidance is that women need a minimum of 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. This is especially important if you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant. It is widely recommended that women take folic acid for up to 12 weeks when pregnant and then after that, it is not as critical. However, a recent study of 26,000 women showed that if you take folic acid continuously throughout your pregnancy, it could reduce the risk of perinatal depression, so we say, take it the whole time. There’s no downside.
Sometimes, you might need to take more folic acid. For example, if a condition like spina bifida runs in your family or if you have a health condition that affects how your body absorbs folic acid (like inflammatory bowel disease).
If you’re taking folic acid supplements, make sure to store them in a cool, dry place. It may seem logical to store them in your bathroom, but hot showers make this a very humid space. Instead, keep them beside your bed so you don’t forget to take them.
There’s no set upper limit for the amount of folic acid you can take daily. Because folate is water-soluble, your body removes any extra you consume. This doesn’t mean you should ignore the recommended daily amounts because it may still be possible to develop side effects if you take too much.
Only exceed the recommended daily amounts if a healthcare professional has recommended a higher dosage. They may do this if you have a folate deficiency for example. The maximum amount of folic acid and folate that an adult can consume from supplements or fortified foods without experiencing side effects is 1,000 mcg. Don’t worry about babies or children. They do not need a supplement. Breastmilk, formula and food should be the only sources of folate in an infant or child’s diet.
Folate supplements are especially important for people who:
- are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant
- have a condition that might impact folate absorption like celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease
- have gene changes that affect how their bodies break down and use folate
- are older and live in care facilities
- are at higher risk of folate deficiency because of their diet
- have alcohol use disorder
Is there a certain kind of folic acid that is better than others?
Look for a supplement with active folic acid, like Guud Flow. Guud Flow contains 500 mcg of Quatrefolic® per capsule which is the brand name of an easily absorbable active form of folic acid. Why is this important? It’s because folic acid and folate from food are not biologically active so your body needs to convert it to the metabolically active form called 5-methyletrahydrofolate (or 5-MTHF for short). Many people, due to their own genetics, actually can’t convert folic acid to 5-MTHF. This means that even though you may be taking folic acid, it can’t do its job properly.
With Quatrefolic®, you don't have to worry about conversion, because your body can absorb this active form of folic acid right away. It may sound complicated, but all you need to know is that Quatrefolic is the most readily absorbable form of folate. It’s actually the only form that your body can immediately use so you can be sure you’re getting all the benefits.
Does folate interact with medications or other dietary supplements?
Yes! Folate supplements can interact with several medications such as methotrexate (Rheumatrex®, Trexall®) when taken to treat cancer.
Taking anti-epileptic or anti-seizure medications, such as phenytoin (Dilantin®), carbamazepine (Carbatrol®, Tegretol®, Equetro®, Epitol®) and valproate (Depacon®), could reduce blood levels of folate. Also, taking folate supplements could reduce blood levels of these medications.
It’s important that you tell your doctor, pharmacist, and other healthcare providers about any dietary supplements and medicines you take if you are considering adding folic acid to your routine. They can tell you if folic acid might interact or interfere with your prescription or over-the-counter medicines or if the medicines might interfere with how your body absorbs, uses, or breaks down nutrients.
I want to increase my folic acid intake naturally. What can I eat?
It’s easy to get your daily dose of folic acid because lots of foods naturally contain folate. Folic acid is also routinely added to foods like bread, cereal, pasta, rice and other grain products.
Good sources of folate are things like:
- Green leafy vegetables (Think: spinach, kale, asparagus, broccoli)
- Sunflower seeds
- Whole grains
- Fresh fruits and fruit juices
So think about a bowl of fortified breakfast cereal like muesli with some freshly chopped orange slices or a glass of orange juice. This breakfast alone will provide you with two sources of folate. You’ll also get some good nutrients from the milk - cow or plant-based - in your cereal.
Still have questions about folic acid? Get in touch. We can help answer any questions you have.
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