You have likely heard someone tell you to supplement your diet with a folic acid supplement if you are pregnant, or trying to get pregnant. In fact, over the last few years, folic acid has been heavily marketed towards women of child bearing age, and for good reason. However, folic acid can benefit everybody and there are other groups who will benefit from additional folic acid supplementation.
Folic acid is actually a B vitamin. It is essential for cell growth and reproduction. Folic acid is also essential in forming DNA building blocks and helping the body create genetic information. Folic acid is also heavily relied upon for forming RNA building blocks as well. Because of these reasons, when the body is rapidly creating tissues or regenerating cells, such as red blood cells and immune cells, there is an increased need for folic acid.
There has been increased interest in folic acid in relation to pregnancy in recent years. This increased interest is due to the fact that researchers now know how important folic acid is for cell reproduction and growth, which is exactly what is happening in a fetus. Because there can be quite a gap between the time when a women conceives and discovers the pregnancy, it is recommended that all women of child bearing age supplement their diets with folic acid. Studies have shown that it may be too late to reap the benefits of folic acid by the time a women discovers the pregnancy.
Folic acid deficiencies have been linked to low birth weight babies, and an increased rate of neural tube defects. By supplementing with 400mcg of folic acid, pregnant women may be able to prevent or reduce the likelihood of heart defects, upper lip and mouth deformities, urinary tract defects and limb reduction defects.
It is not only pregnant women who will benefit from folic acid supplementation. It has been proven that folic acid can keep homocysteine levels in the blood from rising, and therefore prevent cause heart disease. Deficiencies in folic acid have also been discovered in patients with peripheral vascular disease and coronary artery disease.
In 1996 the FDA regulated that all flour, rice, and pasta products be enriched with folic acid. This was an attempt to help people who do not regularly supplement their diets. It has since been found that the amount that the products are being enriched is not enough, and supplementing is still being encouraged, particularity with pregnant women.
Folic acid is found in beans, leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, beets, wheat germ and meat products. Supplementation has been found to be a very effective way to get enough folic acid and it is recommended that women of child bearing age take 400mcg, and otherwise healthy people should be fine with 100mcg.