The Benefits of Folic Acid
Prenatal vitamins are a must for pregnant women, but there’s one vitamin essential before conception: folic acid. Learn about the benefits of folic acid for women, how much you should take, and why doctors recommend this vitamin as you prepare for pregnancy.
Folic acid is a manufactured version of folate, a B vitamin common in food. This synthetic, water-soluble vitamin is added to foods like flour, breakfast cereal, and bread, in addition to supplements. Naturally occurring folate is found in leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale, citrus fruits, avocado, and eggs.
Folic acid and folate affect the body slightly differently, but both offer benefits for women.
Folic acid supports the creation of healthy new red blood cells. These cells carry oxygen throughout the body to promote the growth of skin, hair, nails, and more. Without enough red blood cells, you may develop anemia and feel weak and tired.
Because of its role in red blood cell production, folic acid benefits fetal development. It also helps your baby’s brain, skull, and spinal cord develop correctly and helps prevent neural tube defects like spina bifida and anencephaly. It’s also been shown to help prevent pregnancy complications like preeclampsia.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that all women of reproductive age get enough folic acid daily because of the importance of new cell creation. But the benefits of folic acid are especially prevalent for women trying to conceive or already pregnant.
The CDC recommends women reach the recommended levels one month before pregnancy and through the first trimester.
Women in their reproductive years should take 400 mcg of folic acid daily. A higher dose isn’t needed for most women actively trying to conceive or are already pregnant unless recommended by a doctor due to other health conditions.
Folic acid added to foods, and naturally occurring folate has lower absorption levels than synthetic folic acid. While you can get the benefits from folic acid- or folate-rich foods, an additional supplement will help ensure you reach the recommended levels.
Helping prevent congenital disabilities is one of the most common benefits for women, but there are many others, including:
- Supporting brain health: Research shows that it may help improve the brain function of people with mental impairment or help treat Alzheimer’s disease.
- Reducing symptoms of depression: Together with antidepressant medications, folic acid and folate supplements may reduce depressive symptoms more than medication alone.
- Improving heart health: It helps reduce levels of the amino acid homocysteine that can increase the risk for heart disease. It can also improve blood flow and cardiovascular function.
- Lowering inflammation: Supplementing with folic acid and folate may help reduce key inflammatory markers for people with PCOS or epilepsy.
From vitamins to specialty medications like Menopur and Ovidrel, Mandell’s Clinical Pharmacy provides expert fertility medication guidance. Watch our free video series for helpful tips and recommendations from our team of professionals.