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Why is Folate So Important?

Why is Folate So Important?

For many of us, pregnancy is the first time we’re ever made particularly aware of folate, otherwise known as vitamin B9 or folic acid. But every human needs folic acid, so it’s important to understand a few basic facts about this essential vitamin.

Folic acid works with vitamin B12 and vitamin C to help our bodies break down, use, and make new proteins; form red blood cells; and produce DNA, which carries genetic information. Because it is not stored or manufactured in the human body, we need to take folic acid in from outside, in food and supplements. We make new cells every day, not just when we’re pregnant, so getting the necessary folate every day is very important.

If you are planning on becoming pregnant, your AOA doctor will advise that you start taking folic acid supplements at least a month before you plan to conceive. There is strong evidence that folate prevents spina bifida (a birth defect wherein the backbone and spinal canal do not close entirely before birth), and anencephaly, which refers to an absence of part of the brain or skull caused when the neural tube fails to close.

The recommended dosages for folic acid vary depending on your age, gender, and whether you are pregnant. Too much folic acid doesn’t generally cause harm, because your body eliminates any excess in your urine.

The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine Recommended Intakes for Individuals - Daily Reference Intakes (DRIs) for folate:

Infants

  • 0 - 6 months: 65 mcg/day*
  • 7 - 12 months: 80 mcg/day*

*For infants from birth to 12 months, the Food and Nutrition Board established an Acceptable Intake (AI) for folate that is equivalent to the mean intake of folate in healthy, breastfed infants in the United States.

Children

  • 1 - 3 years: 150 mcg/day
  • 4 - 8 years: 200 mcg/day
  • 9 - 13 years: 300 mcg/day

Adolescents and Adults

  • Males age 14 and older: 400 mcg/day
  • Females age 14 and older: 400 mcg/day
  • Pregnant teens 14-18 years: 600 mcg/day
  • Pregnant females 19 and older: 500 mcg/day
  • Breastfeeding females 14-18 years: 600 mcg/day
  • Breastfeeding females 19 and older: 500 mcg/day

The best option for getting the recommended amount of folate into your diet is to eat dark, leafy greens and other folate-rich foods, and ask you AOA doctor about when he or she would recommend supplements.

For more information on folic acid: