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What is folic acid good for?

what is folic acid good for

When you think of preconception planning and vitamins for fertility, your bound to think of folic acid. But what are its benefits, how much should you take and when should you start taking it? We’ve got all your folate related questions covered.


What is the difference between folic acid and folate?

Folate is the naturally occurring form of vitamin B9. found in foods such as leafy greens, beans and eggs. Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate, and can be found in supplements and fortified foods. The two are almost identical and their names are often used interchangeably. However, there are slight differences in how they are absorbed by the body. The majority of folate supplements contain folic acid but it is possible to get natural supplements for vitamin B9.

What are the benefits of taking folic acid?

Folic acid has a multitude of health benefits. It can help prevent heart disease as it helps regulate the amount of amino acid homocysteine in the body. It is also a great vitamin for brain health. Studies have shown it can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and it help with general memory loss that can be part of old age. It’s even thought to help fight depression, as folate deficiency is linked to a less  effective response to antidepressants. Other benefits of taking these supplements include a reduced risk of anemia and high blood pressure.
Folic acid and folate are two different forms of vitamin B9

Why is folic acid important for pregnancy?

Folic acid helps the body produce and maintain new cells, making it an important ingredient for preconception care. It’s key benefit for pregnant women is reducing the risk of birth defects, specifically Neural Tube Defects (NTDs). These defects often occur in the first month of pregnancy, when the baby’s spinal cord is being formed. The most common NTDs are spina bifida and anencephaly. There are no cure for these birth defects, but research has shown that taking folic acid supplements dramatically reduce the risk of these defects occurring in the womb. Some studies also associates folate with a reduced risk of cancer. There is also research to support a link between folate levels and sperm count, making it an important vitamin for fertility for men.

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Why would a doctor prescribe it?

The NHS recommends daily supplements of 400 micrograms while women are trying to conceive and during the first trimester. However, a doctor may prescribe a higher dosage – up to 5 milligrams (mg) of folic acid each day in certain cases. These cases would include if you have had a previous pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect or your partner has a neural tube defect. A doctor may also specifically prescribe folic acid if you have diabetes. Your doctor will be able to prescribe the right dosage for you and will let you know if its is safe and necessary to take more than the recommended daily allowance.

15 foods high in folate

What are the side effects of folic acid?

Taking a folate supplement is generally thought to be safe and you shouldn’t experience any side effects. However, you should stick to your doctor’s recommended dosage, as too much could lead to some potential side effects. High folic acid intake over a sustained period could lead to skin irritation, issues with sleep and behavioural changes. If you experience any side effects, stop taking the supplement and contact your doctor.

Is too much bad for you?

You can’t get too much naturally occurring folate from foods such as vegetables and seeds. However, it is possible to get too much folic acid from synthetic sources such as supplements and fortified food. This is potentially dangerous as it could hide the symptoms of a Vitamin B12 deficiency, which left untreated could lead to nerve damage. If you are taking a folic acid you should avoid fortified foods such as fortified flour and bread.

Can folic acid cause diarrhea?

Whilst this isn’t a common side effect, increasing folic acid consumption can occasionally play havoc with your bathroom routine. When initially taking this supplement you may have loose stools or have to go to the bathroom more frequently. Be sure to stay hydrated and if symptoms continue, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor.

Can folic acid cause weight gain?

Increasing your folic acid intake should not lead to weight gain – especially if increasing it through healthy diet and natural supplements. However, folate deficiency could result in weight loss. Therefore in replenishing your folate levels you could also stop the weight loss caused by your deficiency. However, this should lead to you being a healthy weight, rather than overweight.

Can folic acid be taken during periods?

Yes! There are no known risks of taking the supplement during when you’re on your period. Some studies show that increased folate can actually help with the symptoms of PMS.

Can folic acid effect your menstrual cycle?

Taking a folate supplement shouldn’t cause irregular periods, and there is some research to indicate it could actually help regulate your menstrual cycle. Some research has shown that taking a folic acid supplement can elongate your cycle. This can cause your period to arrive slightly later than usual. However, this is nothing to be concerned about. Research shows that women taking a folate supplement may have a lower level of amino acid homocysteine the ovaries. This helps the ovaries function better which can impact the length of your cycle.

When should I start taking folic acid?

If you are thinking of trying for a baby you should start taking folic acid ahead of time. Ideally you should start taking it 2-3 months before you stop contraception and start trying to conceive. This will give you time to build up a folate level that will help protect your baby against birth defects. Once you are pregnant you should continue taking the supplements throughout your pregnancy – especially for the first 12 weeks until the baby’s spinal cord is formed.

Can I take folic acid everyday?

Folate supplements are safe to take everyday and it is actually recommended. Folate supplements have a multitude of health benefits, especially for women considering starting a family. Whilst it is advisable to try and eat a balanced diet that includes folate rich foods, it’s difficult to get your recommended daily dose purely through food. Taking a supplement every day means you know you are getting the right amount, regardless of what you have eaten that day. If you are planning on having a baby, having consistent levels of folate in your system ahead of conception will mean your body is ready when you do get pregnant. Folate is also a water soluble B-vitamin, meaning it doesn’t stay in your body for a long time. This is another reason that it’s important to keep it topped up everyday.

best hour to take folic acid

What time of day is best to take folic acid?

It’s generally advised to take your folic acid supplement either in the morning or in the evening. Try and work out what works best for your routine and stick to taking it at the same time everyday. This will help you remember to take it and help your body process it more effectively.

Can you drink on folic acid tablets?

Theoretically you can drink whilst taking them with no side effects. However, if you are drinking heavily, it could reduce the effectiveness of folic acid. If you are taking folic acid to aid fertility, it’s probably a good idea to moderate your alcohol consumption anyway. Excessive drinking can harm your chances of conceiving naturally and increase chances of birth defects once you are pregnant.

Can I take folic acid if I’m not pregnant?

The short answer is yes – and you should definitely consider it. Many of the key birth defects that occur due to folate deficiency happen in the first month of pregnancy. These are called Neural Tube Defects and include spina bifida and anencephaly. Therefore, it’s important for women to take the supplement before they get pregnant. That way both you and your baby are protected, even in the event of an unplanned pregnancy.

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What are the symptoms of low folate?

A folate deficiency can manifest itself in many ways. You may feel want to sleep a lot, and have a lack of energy. You may also experience headaches and unexplained weight loss. In extreme cases, folate deficiency can lead to anemia. This is a condition where your don’t have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen around your body. If you think you are suffering from folate deficiency anemia you should contact your doctor.

Why do I have a folate deficiency?

The most obvious reason that you are low in folate would be your diet. Naturally occurring folate can be found in leafy greens, citrus fruits, avocados and bananas. If you aren’t getting your recommended 5 pieces of fruit and veg a day for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, this could lead to folate deficiency.  If you drink a lot of alcohol this can also make it harder for your gut to absorb folate. You also may have a pre-existing condition, such as celiac disease, that makes it harder for you to absorb folate. When you are pregnant your baby will also absorb a lot of your folate. This is why it’s important to supplement during pregnancy, so both you and your baby get the nutrients you need.

Can I give my child folic acid?

Folate deficiency in children should primarily be treated with a healthy, folate rich diet. However, in some cases a doctor may prescribe a folic acid supplement if they are in extreme deficiency. You should consult your doctor before giving any supplements to your child

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