Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate. It can be found in fortified foods and supplements. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for folic acid varies depending on the age and condition of an individual. Pregnant women have the highest RDA. They need 500 mcg/day.
Reduces Risk of Neural Tube Defects
Of all the benefits of folic acid, its role in pregnancy may be the most crucial. Insufficient folic acid in a pregnant woman's diet may result in birth defects. Neural Tube Defects (NTD)--such as Spina Bifida and Anencephaly--are birth defects that affect the brain and the spine. This may cause a lifetime paralysis. The first trimester of pregnancy is where the brain, along with other organs, are developing. It is advisable that women who are planning to get pregnant start early with folic acid supplementation.
Lowers Risk of Other Pregnancy Complications
Aside from NTD, sufficient levels of folic acid may lower the risk of other birth defects such as those related to the cardiovascular system. Low levels of folic acid are associated with lower than normal birth weight. It was also observed to cause pregnancy complications such as premature delivery and preeclampsia.
Lowers Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases
Homocysteine is a type of amino acid in the blood. High levels of homocysteine are associated with higher risks of cardiovascular diseases. Intake of folic acid, without any deficiency in vitamins B6 and B12, is effective in lowering homocysteine levels.
Decreases Incidence of Cancer
Cancer is associated with DNA damage that is beyond repair. Studies have shown that low levels of folic acid are observed in people with various types of cancer including cervical, esophagus, and brain among others. Since folic acid plays a role as a coenzyme in DNA and RNA synthesis, it is important for healthy cell division and replication. Results from trials involving supplementation of folic acid, in reference to colorectal cancer, are promising.
Strengthens the Immune System
Folic acid aids in the proper production and function of white blood cells. White blood cells are soldiers of the body and act as protectors against diseases and foreign matters. Numbers of white blood cells in the body are a good gauge of how healthy a person is.
Signs of Folic Acid Deficiency
Folic acid is necessary for energy production and red blood cell formation. The most common signs of deficiency are anemia, fatigue, weakness and memory loss. Deficiencies may be caused by inadequate intake of foods rich in folate or folic acid.
Sources of Folic Acid
Significant sources of folic acid include beef and chicken, green leafy vegetables like spinach and asparagus, and fish such as salmon and tuna. Orange juice is also a good source of folic acid along with other citrus fruits. Due to folic acid fortification, foods that do not have the naturally occurring folate--such as cereals, pasta and rice--are now excellent sources of folic acid.
There is no known toxicity associated with supplementation of folic acid in high doses. As a precautionary measure, folic acid cannot be taken in high doses for extended periods by people with hormone-related cancer or convulsive disorder. As always, it is best to exercise in moderation and consult a doctor when in doubt.