Understanding Vitamin B9 – Folic Acid



We need folic acid to build muscles and to keep our body strong and in good repair. Folic acid helps prevent birth defects and heart disease.

In the 1940’s a substance which researchers called “folic acid” (or folate or folacin) from the Latin word for leaf – “folium”. Folic acid is the synthetic form while folate is the natural form found in foods. If you would like to show off to your organic chemist friends, you can call it pteroylglutamic acid or pteroylmonoglutamate.

The Role It Plays

The body is constantly making new cells to replace the old ones that wear out. The red blood cells are a good example- every day, you make millions of new ones to replace old ones that are too beat up to work anymore. All these new cells are why you need a good supply or folic acid. Without it, you can’t make enough new cells fast enough or well enough. And folic acid is especially important for cells that wear out and divide rapidly, such as red blood cells, skin cells, and the cells that line your small intestine. What it all comes down to is you need folic acid for the normal growth and maintenance of every cell in your body.

Folic acid does some other amazing things for your health. Folic acid prevents birth defects, helps prevent heart disease, and in recent research may help prevent cancer. The research is so strong that in 1998 many common foods, including bread, breakfast cereal, pasta, and rice had extra folic acid, by order of the FDA.

Types of Folic Acid

Like the other B vitamins, folic acid is water-soluble. That means your body can’t really store it, so it’s important to get enough every day.

Virtually all multivitamin supplements, especially those formulated for women, contain 400 mcg of folic acid.


The RDA gives you just the bare minimum needed to prevent deficiency, and not the amount that leads to good health. Many doctors and nutritionists agree that the RDA is way, way too low. It is recommended that everyone get at least 400 mcg of folic acid every day – 800 mcg would be even better.

Age Folic Acid
0 – 0.5 year 25 mcg
0.5 – 1 year 35 mcg
1-3 years 50 mcg
4-6 years 75 mcg
7-10 years 100 mcg
11-14 years 150 mcg
Men 15+ 200 mcg
Women 15-50 years 180 mcg
Women 50+ years 180 mcg
Nursing Women 500 mcg


Safe Dosage

This is worth repeating:

The RDA gives you just the bare minimum needed to prevent deficiency, and not the amount that leads to good health. Many doctors and nutritionists agree that the RDA is way, way too low. It is recommended that everyone get at least 400 mcg of folic acid every day – 800 mcg would be even better.

It’s almost impossible to overdose on folic acid. Any excess just comes out harmlessly in your urine – although if you take a lot, your urine will have a bright yellow color.

Most doctors recommend taking no more than 1 mg a day in supplements. The reasoning is that taking larger amounts could mask the serious type of anemia caused by a deficiency of cobalamin. If the deficiency isn’t discovered in time, there could be permanent nerve damage. (Anemia from cobalamin deficiency is actually fairly rare, and almost always occurs in older adults.) Your chances of getting heart disease or colon cancer are much higher.

Make It Work Better

Folic acid works closely with the other B vitamins, especially pyridoxine, cobalamin, and choline. If you’re low on any of the B’s, you’re probably low on folic acid as well – and vice versa.

Vitamin C prevents folic acid from being broken down too quickly in your body. It is strongly recommended getting at least 500 mg of vitamin C every day.

Folic acid is hurt by: Alcohol, anticonvulsant drugs (especially phenytoin (Dilantin), birth control pills, and many other prescription drugs.

Even if you regularly eat lots or beans and fresh vegetables, it’s hard to get enough folic acid through diet alone. That’s because you only absorb about half the folic acid you eat. Also, a lot is lost in the process of cooking.

Good Sources

There really aren’t very many good animal sources for folic acid. Beans of all kinds are a great way to get folic acid. Other good plant sources are spinach and asparagus. On the whole, most fruits don’t contain much folic acid. The best choices are bananas, oranges, and cantaloupe.

Other sources include: Avocado, beets, whole wheat bread, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, endive, peanuts, romaine lettuce, and wheat germ.


You could be deficient in folic acid if:

You’re pregnant. Because the unborn baby is growing fast, he or she is taking a lot of you folic acid.

You’re breastfeeding. You’re passing a lot of folic acid on to your baby, so you need some extra for yourself.

You abuse alcohol. Alholics have bad nutrition and don’t get enough B vitamins in general. Also, alcohol blocks the absorption of folic acid.

You smoke cigarettes. Smokers are low on all the B vitamins, including folic acid.

You take birth control pills. If you’re on birth control pills, you could be low on all the B vitamins, but especially folic acid.

You’re over age 65. Many elderly people do not get enough folic acid from their food. That’s partly because their ability to absorp folic acid has dropped, and partly because their food is low in folic acid to begin with.

If you’re deficient in folic acid, you might have some of these symptoms: Anemia, nausea and loss of appetite, diarrhea, malnutrition from poor nutrient absorption, weight loss, weakness, sore tongue, headaches, irritability and mood swings, and heart palpitations.

One Response to “Understanding Vitamin B9 – Folic Acid”
  1. We thought this was a great post on how folic acid works and the role it plays in maintaining health. Thank you!

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