Folic Acid (also called vitamin B9) is part of the B vitamin group. Folic acid is often associated with pregnancy as expectant mums will be advised to take folic acid supplements during pregnancy. But folic acid is not just for new mums. It is essential in helping all of us to keep healthy by supporting our growth, development, nerve and brain function.
Where do I find Vitamin B9?
- Folic acid is found naturally in many foods.
- Good sources include dark green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli. It’s also found in brussels sprouts, asparagus, peas, chickpeas, brown rice, liver and in fortified breakfast cereals and juices.
- Adults should eat 0.2mg of folic acid per day. Pregnant women or women trying to conceive should up this dose to 0.4mg daily by taking a supplement.
Why do I need Folic Acid?
Folic acid is essential for reducing the risk of central nervous system defects (such as spina bifida) in unborn babies.
But folic acid plays an important role for everyone (not just expectant mums). Together with vitamin B12 it helps our bodies form healthy red blood cells and produce DNA (our genetic material). Working with vitamin B12 and vitamin C, folic acid also assists the body in breaking down, using and creating new proteins.
Many claims are made about the benefits of folic acid including growing evidence that it may help with the treatment of dementia (along with vitamin B12 and vitamin B6). People with dementia often have high levels of an amino acid called homocysteine in their blood. Folic acid, together with vitamins B12 and B6 appears to lower homocysteine levels. More research is needed in this area.
How will I know if I am lacking in Folic Acid?
If you lack folic acid you may become anaemic causing you to feel tired and listless (although be aware that this may also be due to a vitamin B12 deficiency). Other signs that you may be lacking folic acid include mouth ulcers, poor growth, a swollen tongue, loss of sensation and muscle weakness.
If your doctor suspects that you are anaemic he or she will test to see if you are deficient in folic acid and also vitamin B12. ‘Folate deficiency anaemia’ can usually be treated with prescribed folic acid tablets. Most people will need to take these for a period of four months.
Can Folic Acid ever be harmful?
As folic acid and vitamin B12 work closely together, taking too much folic acid may mask the fact that you have a vitamin B12 deficiency which, left untreated, can lead to nerve damage. If you are diagnosed as anaemic it’s important to also check for a vitamin B12 deficiency as large amounts of folic acid will treat the anaemia but not compensate for any deficiency in B12.