NDSU Extension Service - Sargent County

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"B" Healthy

Folic AcidFolic acid is the man-made form of a B vitamin that our bodies need for healthy cells and blood. The natural form of the vitamin is called folate.  The body uses folate and folic acid to produce cells, including red blood cells, so it is important for all people at all ages.

Young girls and women need folic acid before and during pregnancy.  This is because it has been shown to help prevent up to 70 percent of birth defects of the brain and spinal cord, also known as neural tube defects. These types of birth defects occur very early in prenatal development, before the pregnancy may even be suspected or confirmed.  Adequate folic acid during pregnancy also may help prevent cleft lip/palate and other birth defects.

Some studies suggest folic acid may reduce risk of heart disease and stroke.  Additionally, researchers have found folic acid may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, especially colon cancer. The latest studies suggest a link between too little folic acid and Alzheimer’s disease; however, more studies need to be conducted in this area to better understand the impacts.

Folate is found in foods such as leafy green vegetables, dry edible beans and citrus fruits.  Fortified breakfast cereals, bread, pasta, rice and vitamin supplements are sources of folic acid.  Unlike most other instances of natural versus man-made, folic acid (the man-made form of folate) is more efficiently absorbed by our bodies than is the natural form, folate. 

Eating a balanced, varied diet can help meet folic acid recommendations. Before taking a dietary supplement, people should consider how much folate and folic acid they are getting
                                                   from the foods they eat and follow the advice of their health-care providers. 

Of particular interest to older adults, vegetarians and supplement users is the awareness that too much folic acid from supplements can hide vitamin B12 deficiency, which could result in anemia and/or permanent nerve damage. As always, it is important to discuss with your medical care provider any vitamins or other supplements you take. 

More information about this vitamin, including food sources of folate and folic acid, current recommendations regarding amounts of folate for children and adults, and reliable sources of additional information is available in the NDSU publication, “Folic Acid: A Vitamin Important at Any Age.”  The publication is available from the county extension office or online at  http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/yf/foods/fn680.pdf. 

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