Updated 21 May 2013

Folic acid (folate)

Folate, one of the B-group vitamins, is also called folic acid. It plays a crucial role in early foetal nervous system development.

Folate, one of the B-group vitamins, is also called folic acid. It plays a crucial role in early foetal nervous system development, red blood cell maturation, as well as helping break down proteins and carbohydrates for use in the body.

What folic acid does for you

Folate plays a pivotal role in the correct development of a baby’s spinal cord during the three months following conception, and a deficiency of folate can lead to spina bifida. It’s also vital to the proper formation of red blood cells and helps lower the risk of heart disease.

Which foods have folic acid?

Fortified breakfast cereals, beans, green vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, spinach, broccoli and lettuce, as well as chickpeas and avocado pears.

How much folic acid do you need?

The current recommended dietary allowance/adequate intake (RDA/AI) for folic acid is 400 microgram per day for adults. Women who are pregnant or hoping to become so, should take 600 microgram in supplement form per day.

Signs of deficiency of folic acid

Apart from the obvious dangers of spina bifida in foetal development, other symptoms can include fatigue, eczema, cracked lips, anxiety, high homocystein levels, macrocytic anaemia and pale skin.

New research on folic acid

The fatigue that many women experience during pregnancy can be treated with a combination of iron, vitamin B12 and folic acid.

Women taking the oral contraceptive pill can reduce their risk of cervical cancer and spina bifida once they fall pregnant, by taking 400 microgram of folic acid daily.

Daily supplements of folic acid may also reduce the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis in women, as well as reducing mood swings and depression. High homocystein levels, currently regarded a higher risk for heart disease than high cholesterol, can be successfully treated with 50 microgram vitamin B12, 400 microgram folic acid and 400 IU’s vitamin E supplementation a day.


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