Folic acid is a B vitamin. It helps the body make healthy new cells. Everyone needs folic acid. For women who may get pregnant, it is really important. When a woman has enough folic acid in her body before and during pregnancy, it can prevent major birth defects of her baby's brain or spine.
Foods with folic acid in them include leafy green vegetables, fruits, dried beans, peas and nuts. Enriched breads, cereals and other grain products also contain folic acid. If you don't get enough folic acid from the foods you eat, you can also take it as a dietary supplement.
Folic (FOH-lik) acid is a B vitamin. It helps the body make healthy new cells. "Folic acid" and "folate" mean the same thing. Folic acid is a manmade form of folate. Folate is found naturally in some foods. Most women do not get all the folic acid they need through food alone.
All people need folic acid. But folic acid is very important for women who are able to get pregnant. When a woman has enough folic acid in her body before and during pregnancy, it can prevent major birth defects, including:
The results of some studies suggest that folic acid might also help to prevent other types of birth defects.
Folic acid also helps keep your blood healthy. Not getting enough can cause anemia (uh-NEE-mee-uh).
Experts think that folic acid might also play a role in:
More research is needed to know this for certain.
Women able to get pregnant need 400 to 800 mcg or micrograms of folic acid every day, even if they are not planning to get pregnant. (This is the same as 0.4 to 0.8 mg or milligrams.) That way, if they do become pregnant, their babies will be less likely to have birth defects. Talk with your doctor about how much folic acid you need if:
Some people also need more folic acid. Talk to your doctor about how much folic acid you need if you:
Yes! Birth defects of the brain and spine happen in the very early stages of pregnancy, often before a woman knows she is pregnant. By the time she finds out she is pregnant, it might be too late to prevent those birth defects. Also, half of all pregnancies in the United States are not planned. For these reasons, all women who are able to get pregnant need 400 to 800 mcg of folic acid every day.
Women can get enough folic acid by taking a vitamin pill every day. If you have a hard time swallowing pills, you might try a chewable or liquid product that has folic acid. Most U.S. multivitamins have at least 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid. Check the label on the bottle to be sure. Or you can take a pill that only contains folic acid. When choosing a brand of vitamins, look for "USP" or "NSF" on the label. These "seals of approval" mean that the pills have been made properly and contain the amounts of vitamins stated on the label. Also, make sure the pills have not expired. If the bottle does not have an expiration date, do not buy it. Ask your pharmacist for help selecting a product. Please note, if you already are taking a daily prenatal vitamin, you probably are getting all the folic acid you need. Check the label to be sure.
NIH: National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements