Perhaps the most known among the Folic Acid facts is the benefit for pregnant and soon-to-be pregnant women. Folic Acid is a key vitamin for proper fetus development; without it, the baby risks a deformed spine, suboptimal brain development and other ailments. This is why so many foods, notably bread, waffles, cereal and other staples, are routinely fortified with Folic Acid. There's more to Folic Acid than just baby health, however.
Some Folic Acid Facts
Folic Acid is a member of vitamin B family, more specifically vitamin B9. It is also known as Folate, Folacin and in some cases Vitamin M.
What Folic Acid Does
Folic Acid is heavily involved in the production of new cells and the maintenance of existing cells (hence the importance during pregnancy). It is also important for the prevention of heart disease, anemia, stroke and certain forms of cancer. Some studies suggest limited protection against Alzheimer's disease, although more research needs to be done. It has also shown itself beneficial in preventing canker sores.
RDA and Overdosing
The general recommendation is to aim for 400 mcg of Folic Acid per day. Women should play it safe and make this the bare-bones minimum, especially those who are planning to or might become pregnant. Women who are confirmed pregnant should go with 600 mcg per day. Certain medical conditions, especially if you've had previous pregnancies where Folic Acid deficiency may have been an issue, could be a cue to going even higher -- talk to your doctor to determine what is right for you.
This "play it safe" angle inevitably prompts the question of how much of a good thing is too much. Fortunately, Folic Acid has very low toxicity, even at very high doses. The official Upper Limit (UL) has been set to 1 mg for adults.
However, it is important to note that Folic Acid isn't quite playing nice with another member of the vitamin B family. Excess amounts of Folic Acid may hinder proper absorption of vitamin B12, another very important vitamin. Furthermore, a big intake of Folic Acid can effectively mask the deficiency symptoms of vitamin B12, which may theoretically cause brain damage in the long term.
Having said that, this one-two punch against vitamin B12 may sound nasty, but it's rarely a big issue in reality; few exceed the UL intake long enough on food alone. It is, however, something to keep in mind if you decide to take supplemental Folic Acid in the form of pills. This is especially true for the elderly -- ask your doctor about getting your vitamin B12 checked if you're getting up there in age and you're planning to start supplementing with Folic Acid regularly.
Where to Find Folic Acid
Folic Acid is found in a wide variety of foods, most commonly in green, leafy vegetables. Here are some good, everyday sources:
- Spinach (1 cup - 206 mcg)
- Broccoli (1 cup - 104 mcg)
- Asparagus (1 cup - 70 mcg)
- Lettuce (1 cup - 76 mcg)
- Blackeyed peas (1 cup - 210 mcg)
- White beans (1 cup - 144 mcg)
- Bananas (1 cup - 45 mcg)
- Orange juice (1 cup - 75 mcg)
- Sunflower seed kernels (1 cup - 303 mcg)
Most grain products such as bread, pasta and cereal are heavily fortified with Folic Acid too.
Final Thoughts on Folic Acid
These Folic Acid facts are merely scraping the surface, of course -- lots of research has been done and is still in progress on the links between Folic Acid supplementation and cancer prevention, mental agility, combating depression and other interesting areas of human health. One thing is certain, however; there's no reason not to play it safe and at least take in the recommended 400 mcg per day, be it from vegetables, bread or pills.