Folic acid is the man-made and more bioavailable form of the B vitamin folate. It is found in dietary supplements and also fortified in some foods such as protein shakes, nutrition bars, cereals and breads.
Folic acid is important for:
- Energy production
- Making healthy new cells
- Producing the body’s genetic material, DNA and RNA
In addition, folic acid helps prevent anemia and controls harmful plasma homocysteine levels. In pregnant women, folic acid is an important nutrient in promoting the development of the baby’s spine and brain. And finally, folic acid, along with vitamins B12 and C, helps the body create and use new proteins.
The use of Geritol multivitamin has not been studied in pregnant women. It is not a substitute for your prenatal vitamin, so if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, talk to your doctor about your specific nutritional needs.
Are You Getting Enough Folic Acid?
Folic acid is water-soluble and therefore excess amounts of this vitamin pass through the body in urine. Because it is not stored in the body, it is important to consume folic acid daily (through folate in food or folic acid in fortified foods or supplements).
Too Little Folic Acid
Sub-optimal levels of folic acid are not uncommon. Alcoholism, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease and certain medications, such as birth control pills, can all decrease folic acid within the body. Other potential factors that can increase the risk of folic acid deficiency include smoking, stress and age.
Too Much Folic Acid
Excess folic acid typically isn’t harmful because it is removed regularly. However, consuming too much folic acid could mask a vitamin B12 deficiency, which affects between 1.5–15% of the U.S. population, primarily those over the age of 50. Taking folic acid with vitamin B12, as in a multivitamin, reduces the likelihood of masking a B12 deficiency. Certain medications do interact with folic acid, and it is therefore very important to speak with a physician prior to starting a new dietary supplement, including a multivitamin.
Folic Acid for Energy Support
In addition to all of its important roles in the body, folic acid is vital for energy support. All eight B vitamins help the body produce energy within its cells, and folic acid also assists with the conversion of carbohydrates into the body’s preferred source of fuel, glucose. Aside from to its direct role in energy production, folic acid also helps iron function and, together with vitamin B12, folic acid helps make red blood cells. Fall short on folic acid and your body will not make enough new red blood cells, which carry oxygen to tissues throughout the body. Therefore, weakness and fatigue are often the first signs of a folic acid deficiency.
Though everyone needs folic acid, this vitamin is especially important for pregnant women because it supports a baby’s developing spine and brain. In the United States, insufficient intake of folic acid is so prevalent that The Institute of Medicine and other health authorities recommend all women of childbearing age consume 400 mcg of folic acid and those who are pregnant consume 600 mcg folic acid through fortified foods, dietary supplements or a combination of the two.
Because approximately half of births in the United States are unplanned, it is important that all women follow these recommendations, even if they do not intend on becoming pregnant.
Folic Acid. Medline Plus. National Library of Medicine, NIH. Retrieved from: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/folicacid.html February 22, 2013.
Wolff T, Witkop T, Miller T et al. Folic acid supplementation for the prevention of neural tube defects. An Update of the Evidence for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Evidence Syntheses, No. 70. AHRQ; May 2009. Report No. 09-05132-EF-1. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK43412/ February 22, 2013.
Folic Acid in Diet. Medline Plus, NIH. Retrieved from: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002408.htm February 22, 2013.