If you are thinking about getting pregnant, or if you already are, chances are your OBGYN has mentioned the importance of folic acid. You may have also heard about the importance of folate. At times, folic acid and folate may even have been used interchangeably - but are they the same and do they offer the same benefits?
First, a little information on these key nutrients. Folic acid and folate are both forms of vitamin B9, a water soluble member of the B-complex family of vitamins. B vitamins work together to support healthy nerve function1, metabolism, the formation of red blood cells, and help boost the body’s energy supply2.
Folic acid and folate are seen as particularly important in supporting healthy pregnancy. Vital to the body’s growth and development, they help play an important role in supporting healthy cell division, DNA synthesis3, and neural tube development4,5.
Folic acid is the synthetic form of vitamin B9 and is often used to fortify food like breads and cereals – and is often featured in comprehensive prenatal multivitamins. Of the two, folic acid is better metabolized, and therefore, better absorbed by the body than folate’s natural form.6
Folate is the naturally-occurring form of vitamin B9 and is found in dark, leafy greens like spinach, kale, and romaine lettuce; cruciferous vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, rapini, and cauliflower; and fruits including oranges, grapefruit, and strawberries.
Ideally, supplement a diet already rich in folate with a daily prenatal vitamin that has at least 400 mcg (micrograms) of folic acid to help satisfy your needs and the needs of your baby.5,7
National Institutes of Health weighs in on folic acid and preconception health:
Folic acid is very important for all women who may become pregnant. Adequate folate intake during the periconceptual period, the time just before and just after a woman becomes pregnant, protects against neural tube defects.8
Shaw GM, Schaffer D, Velie EM, Morland K, Harris JA (1995). Periconceptional vitamin use, dietary folate, and the occurrence of neural tube defects. Epidemiology 6 (3): 219-226.
The Centers for Disease Control:
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends taking folic acid daily for at least one month before conception, and daily while you are pregnant. The CDC also suggests that women of childbearing age take folic acid daily, whether planning a pregnancy or not, as nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned. This makes getting enough folic acid important – whether you intend to get pregnant or not.9
…and their recommended amount:
CDC urges women to take 400 mcg of folic acid every day, starting at least one month before getting pregnant, to help prevent major birth defects of the baby's brain and spine.9
1. Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine), University of Maryland Medical Center, Upper Chesapeake Health online:http://umuch.org/health/medical/altmed/supplement/vitamin-b6-pyridoxine
2. Vitamin B12, University of Maryland Medical Center, Upper Chesapeake Health online:http://umuch.org/health/medical/ency/articles/vitamin-b12
3. Kamen B. Folate and antifolate pharmacology. Semin Oncol.1997 Oct;24(5 Suppl 18):S18-30-S18-39.
4. Wilson RD, Davies G, Désilets V, Reid GJ, et al. The use of folic acid for the prevention of neural tube defects and other congenital anomalies. J Obstet Gynaecol Can. 2003 Nov;25(11):959-73.
5. The safe upper limit of daily intake is 1,000 mcg (1 mg). 21 C.F.R. § 101.79 (Health claims: Folate and neural tube defects); Letter Regarding Dietary Supplement Health Claim for Folic Acid with Respect to Neural Tube Defects (Docket No. 91N-100H) (Oct. 10, 2000).
6. Folate, Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University, http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/vitamins/fa/
7. Wilson RD, Davies G, Désilets V, Reid GJ, et al. The use of folic acid for the prevention of neural tube defects and other congenital anomalies. J Obstet Gynaecol Can. 2003 Nov;25(11):959-73.
8. Abridged from Folate, Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health.http://extensiononline.tamu.edu/online_course_material/Course371/file/Folate-Handout.pdf
9. Abridged from Facts About folic Acid, Centers for Disease Control.http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/documents/FactsAboutFolicAcid_English.pdf