Folic Acid Important for Health

By , SparkPeople Blogger

Folate is a water soluble B vitamin (B9) that is naturally found in food.

Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate found in supplements and fortified foods.

Folate plays a vital role in good health.

  • It helps make normal red blood cells and aids in preventing anemia in both adults as well as children.
  • Is vital for production and maintenance of new cells and necessary to make DNA and RNA.
  • Is essential for the metabolism of homocysteine and maintaining normal levels of amino acids in the body.

Because this nutrient is so important, in 1996 the FDA regulated the addition of folic acid to enriched breads, cereals, flour, corn meals, pastas, rice and other grain products. Because cereals and grains are widely consumed in the U.S., they are leading contributors of folic acid to the American diet.

The RDA for folate is expressed as Dietary Folate Equivalent or DFE. The DFE takes into account the differences in absorption of the naturally occurring dietary folate and the more bioavailable synthetic folic acid. The RDA is expressed as micrograms (ug) of DFE and 1 DFE = 1 ug food folate = 0.6 ug folic acid from supplements and fortified foods. The RDA for folate for adults is 400 ug/day for both males and females with an increase for woman who are of child bearing age to a minimum of 600 ug/day.

Why the education on folate?

Folic acid fortification has been a great public health success along with heightened education campaigns. Since cereal and grain fortification began over a decade ago, neural tube defect (NTD) birth defects, most commonly spina bifida and anencephaly, have seen a dramatic decrease. Likewise, a recent study from Quebec indicates a 6 percent decrease in heart defects since fortification started in Canada. However, for all the good the increase in folic acid fortification has done to improve the rate of birth defects when adequately received in woman of child bearing age, new studies are suggesting that too much folic acid for other demographics might actually be fueling certain types of cancer.

Health experts agree that too little folate or folic acid for certain populations is not good. Likewise, too much folate or folic acid for other populations may not be either. But knowing how much is enough for a diverse population is tough to answer. With folic acid readily available in cereals, breads, snack bars, and multivitamins, the risk of getting too much folic acid is high. There is little risk of getting too much folate from foods such as leafy greens, orange juice, legumes and lentils, but there is a more significant risk of getting too much folic acid from fortified sources and supplements. Studies show that not only can too much folic acid delay the detection of vitamin B12 deficiency, it can also fuel certain types of cancer especially in men related to colorectal and prostate cancer.

So how much is enough with out being too much? The Institute of Medicine's Food and Nutrition Board recommends an upper limit of 1 milligram/1,000 micrograms per day for folic acid and folate combined. Since enzymes in the intestine convert folic acid to usable folate, the body is limited by how much synthetic folic acid the body can process, so excess gets dumped into the blood stream. Because it takes more for the body to absorb folate compared to folic acid, you absorb higher amounts of folic acid from fortified foods and supplements than you would from whole food sources with equivalent folate.

The bottom line - Eating a balanced diet rich in natural sources of folate such as beans, lentils, orange juice and leafy greens is recommended. Being aware of the folic acid content of vitamins and supplements and your overall folic acid intake from those and other fortified and enriched foods is a good idea. If you are of child bearing age, it is important to have at least 600 ug/day so you are in good nutritional health related folic acid should you become pregnant. Care should be taken from everyone to ensure an intake of less than 1 milligram/1,000 micrograms each day unless otherwise prescribed by your medical provider.

Have you ever thought about getting too much folic acid? Will you do a folic acid check up for your supplements and vitamins ?

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I have been told by my Nutrition Tracker Report that I don't have enough Folate in my diet. I MUST lose 15 lbs. by Sept. 1st, and I can't afford the extra calories eating MORE food would bring. My Super B-Complex contains 400mcg of folic acid, but I can't get the tracker to add that to my chart, so I guess I will just "believe" that I'm A-OK since the bottle claims it is the 100% daily requirement. Report
perhaps part of why I am anemic Report
I'm 5 months pregnant and got a bit scared when i read the headline. I took folic acid tablets for 3 months before i fell pregnant and then on doctors orders until i was 3 months gone.
i stopped getting acne when i stopped taking too much folic acid..
This is good to know! Report
I don't worry about too much folic acid as I do not take supplements. If you eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruit & veggies & fiber you don't need x-tra supplements, unless there is a medical reason. Most of these supplements are way over- rated anyway. No need. Report
That's interesting to know. But I definitely will trust my doctor on what he says I need. My sister is taking extremely high levels of folic acid due to MTHFR. Thanks to the high doses she is about 6 months pregnant after having 3 miscarriages. Report
I remember when I was young and a doctor recommended that I take 3,000 x the recommended daily allowance of vitamin E. "Oh, there's no harm in getting more than you need," what what she said. Well, it turns out that excess vitamin E has also been linked to cancer.

Also, there's recent studies showing that taking too many antioxidants (thought to be another "too much is never enough" thing), can actually make working out less effective.

I would suspect that the reason folic acid at high doses would be detrimental to health is because it is necessary for new cells to be created, as well as for blood cell maintenance. Cancer needs blood supply to grow, and it needs to create new cells to be malignant. So, if you have too high of levels and you develop cancer, it'll encourage its growth.

It's interesting that they keep finding that unnaturally high levels of even "safe" supplements are more dangerous than simply eating a balanced diet. It's usually hard to overdose if you're getting it in food. Report
sorry - posted on the wrong blog! Report
I live in the Bahamas, so flip flops are a staple of mine. I basicalyy wear them all the time, to walk the dog, around the house, running errands. Last year I bruised my heel and had to wear tennis shoes 24/7 to heal my injury. Well of course, I'm back to my flip flops, but lately my hip has ben bothering me - it never occured to me it might be my flip flops, I'm going back to tennis shoes and see if it makes a difference. Thank you. Report
I would not be surprised if this overload is caused by Americans eating too much fortified foods, not supplementation. Report
I am a vegetarian , I also take daily vitamins....etc...... I am not sure how much Folic Acid I am taking in each day nor am I going to start worring about it....every time you turn around we are being told "something" is going to cause cancer or some other dreaded illness.......for every new medicine that comes out on the market you hear of a long list of "It May Cause" ........ There are so many things out there today to worrry about......I am not adding Folic Acid to my list of Things to Worry about today.. Report
I have been on 2 mg folic acid now for almost three years. I have anemia and the doctor put me on this dose to improve the anemia. Report
Great info - I plan on passing this on to my sons who are into supplements. Report
I am on a prescription medication that blocks my body's absorption of folic acid. My doctor has me on a 1 mg tablet of folic acid daily. I don't worry about getting too much, just not enough which for me causes hair loss and mouth sores. Report
I don't think I'm in much danger of getting too much folate or folic acid in spite of a balanced diet and multivitamin, but I'm in a unique position. One of the seizure medications I take renders most of the vitamin nutrients you'd typically be getting out of food unusable. That's why I have to take the multivitamin too.

For others, I have to wonder. Not many people like to eat those leafy greens and legumes. Report
Before reading this the thought came to mind that anything that is too much of a good thing can be bad for you.

What is the difference of having too much acid in your diet & Folic Acid, is it the same thing?

I was told by my iridologist that I had too much acid in my diet & if I didn't change my diet, that I'd die.

I've changed my diet, so I believe I am good to go. Report
The best thing to do is to see your physician and have your blood levels tested to see if you are getting proper nutrition. I am 18 months post-op gastric bypass, and watching my vitamin levels is extremely important, because my body no longer processes food the same way it used to. So before you panic and try to self-diagnose whether or not you are getting too much folate, see your doctor! Report
"new studies are that too much folic acid for other demographics might actually be fueling certain types of cancer. "

Take note please that these are NEW studies and that nothing has been confirmed. These studies are SUGGESTING that this nutrient MAY cause problems in OTHER DEMOGRAPHICS, that is people who are not women of childbearing age.
Please don't panic and stop eating breads and cerals or taking your supplements. Especially if they have been prescribed by your doctor or you happen to be pregnant or are planning to become pregnant in the near future. Report
I'm just sitting here drinking a diet white tea Fuze drink. They are great and I have a bottle each day...Just looked at the label and it contains 225mcg of folic acid. Not sure if I'm getting too much having 5 of these a week plus veggies and OJ?? Report
Thanks for the article. I'm pregnant and taking prenatals with folic acid. I'm not concerned that I'm getting too much though. But I will ask my Dr. at my next appt. to make sure. Report
Great information, thanks for sharing. Report
Great heads-up - thanks! I try not to eat too much fortified food, but I do take a multivitamin and eat a balanced diet. Will be interesting to check on the folate/folic acid levels. Report
Keep in mind that the research on too MUCH folic acid is new. I do thank Tanya Jolliffe for the article emphasizing that too much folic acid can possibly be detrimental to people's health. She also emphasized that neural tube defects can be prevented by folic acid supplements (which is well proven in many studies), so balance is definitely an issue. Also, the B vitamins (including folate) are water-soluble which means that they are eliminated through the urine and not stored in fat. However, if too much of a B vitamin is consumed (and it does happen in rare cases), then the kidneys cannot eliminate it fast enough and it can become toxic. Thank you, Tanya, for the infomative article based on current medical research. Report
Funny, I've always read that B vitamins in excess are just urinated out of the body, as the body regulates itself on what it needs. Interesting. Report
Anyone who is pregnant (or trying to get pregnant) should be consulting their doctor about an appropriate amount of this vitamin. It is a higher amount (I can't remember exactly how much) because it helps to prevent neural tube defects like spina bifida. Since these defects form in months 1 - 3, it's important to keep an eye on your levels as soon as you find out that you're pregnant. It's also the reason they suggest taking prenatal vitamins up to 3 months before trying to get pregnant. Report
Thanks for the article. I have my check up once a year and so far I am good. Report
Sad thing is that my doctor told me that there were probably no adverse affects of having too much folic acid... Report
I didn't know this will check my vitamins. Report
I love the article, great information.
I don't think I'm getting too much folic acid. I love my green leafy foods.
Thanks again for the article.and I will keep this in mind. Report
Have this checked regularly.
I have gluten intolerance (no grains) and have had to limit many of the foods that are also high in folate due to medical conditions. I have added the low level for my intake to my nutrition log. I often have trouble reaching the low level and am supplementing with a folic acid it has a clear warning about possible overdoses but no one recommend that I supplement since I would obviously have trouble getting it from foods that have been not allowed for me. There is another side to the story. I am glad I was able to figure out what was missing on my own. Report
I'll stick with leafy greens - not to crazy about bio-engineered folics being added to my foods. Report
I think folate and folic acid are usually not listed on labels, and are therefore difficult to track. Report
A few days ago, there was an article on how important folic acid was.

Now they're saying too much is a bad thing. Which, really applies to anything.

No offense, but, I think this is part of the reason there's so much stress about balancing a healthy diet, and why some give up altogether.

I do love this site, but all the information gets to be conflicting. Report
I used to take a folic acid supplement that was prescription strength, but I was taking a cancer drug that seriously depleted folic acid & B-12 in my system. I had chronic issues w/anemia.

Now that I'm off that drug, I've stopped taking the folic acid & it's good to read this information. I always thought that water-soluble vitamins & minerals couldn't harm you Thanks for this information. Report
Yes, I know about the folic acid which I have to take for the rest of my life.

Thanks for the article.
My mom is on Coumedin and has to watch how much green vegetables she eats. She also has to watch her grapefruit juice and when she can drink that. It interfers with her pill doing its job. Report
I take prescription folic acid, 1 mg /day. I also take coumadin so she feels that it is necessary to supplement. I have blood tests every three months to check evrything. Report
My friend is on Coumadin and has to watch the amount of Vitamin K she injests. So LOTS of green, leafy vegetables, which she adores and that are also a good source for Folic Acid, are a no-no for her. She does eat them but the amount she normally eats is taken into consideration as well the dose of Coumadin. I think that everyone needs to check with thier primary doc and not go by any "one size fits all" approach. We are all different with many different variables. Report
I was very sick with my first pregnancy. After genetic testing I was found to have an increased risk of heart disease and having a stroke, due to a genetic. After consulting with a genetics Dr. at Henry Ford Hospital and my personal Dr. I am on 1000 mg of folic acid for the rest of my life, to decrease my risk. I did ask them if you could get too much Folic Acid, and they both said no, what the body does not need, I would pass in my urine.

This is a nutrient I cannot reach. Broccoli, spinach and romaine is not enough.
Looks like I 'LL HAVE TO COOK? Please add more vegetable for folic. Report
Never thought about it but will do a check of my vitamins and other medicine. Report
I'm a little confused... I am almost always over my folate levels since I eat a spinach/romain lettuce salad most days for lunch (about 4 cups), along w/ other foods that have naturally occuring folate, but I usually eat a Luna Sunrise bar for breakfast which is fortified. Should I be concerned? Report
As if I wasn't confused enough about folic acid, now they say I can have too much. For the most part I try to get most of my nutrients from "real" food, but with fortified cereals and such it's hard to know. Report
I have taken a large amount of grains out of my diet (celiac dis.), so I get alot of fruits and vegs, along with a liquid multivitamin. So I feel that I am getting enough....eating healthy! Report
No, I don't think I'm getting too much folic acid. Because of medications I'm on my doctor has me taking a large amount of supplemental folic acid. However, I do have blood tests done every 6 weeks to make sure everything stays in normal ranges. Report
Thank you for this article. My doctor said I was genetically pre-disposed to have low levels of this, so put me on a folate pill for the evenings, plus a prenatal vitamin (not pregnant, but we have been trying). I also have super low energy (always have) and just recently my grandmother gave me TriVita Sublingual B-12 which has folate in that as well. I suspect I am taking too much! I will definitely look into it with my doctor.... Report
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