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Understanding Folic Acid: What it is and How it Works

By May 24, 2023June 24th, 2023Womens Health9 min read
Understanding Folic Acid: What it is and How it Works

In this blog, we’ll discuss what folic acid is, how it works in the body, why it is essential during pregnancy and why it’s important to get enough of it. 

Folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, is an essential nutrient that plays a crucial role in various bodily functions, including DNA synthesis, red blood cell formation, and brain function. 

Folic acid is especially important for women who are planning to conceive or are pregnant, as it can help prevent birth defects and promote healthy fetal development.

What is Folic Acid?

Folic acid is an artificial (synthetic) form of folate. It is a water-soluble vitamin that cannot be stored by the body in large quantities. However, it is easily absorbed by the body and therefore, added to some foods. Grains such as rice, bread, pasta, and some cereals are enriched (fortified). Dietary supplements containing what are also available.  

What is folate?

You can find folate in many foods that you eat naturally. Leafy greens, citrus fruits, nuts, beans, peas, seafood, eggs, dairy, meat, poultry, and grains all fall into this category. In order to make red blood cells and DNA, the genetic material in your cells, your body needs folate. Folate is especially important for people who are pregnant. Folate helps in the growth and development of the fetus and can help prevent birth defects.

However, many people do not consume enough folate in their diets, which can lead to deficiencies and health problems. To address this, folic acid was developed as a supplement that can be added to foods or taken as a pill.

How Does Folic Acid Work in the Body?

Folic acid is converted into its active form, called 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF), in the liver and other tissues. 5-MTHF is then used by the body to perform various functions, including:

DNA synthesis and repair: is required for the production of new DNA, which is essential for cell growth and division. It also helps repair damaged DNA, which can occur due to exposure to toxins or radiation.

Red blood cell formation:  It plays a critical role in the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body.

Homocysteine metabolism: it converts homocysteine, an amino acid found in the blood, into methionine, another amino acid that is used to build proteins and other important molecules.

Why is Folic Acid Important in Pregnancy

Getting enough folic acid is especially important for women who are pregnant or planning to conceive. Adequate intake during pregnancy can help prevent neural tube defects, which are serious birth defects that affect the brain and spine.

Here are some reasons why is important:

Fetal development: It is essential for the proper development of the neural tube, which becomes the baby’s brain and spinal cord. Adequate intake of folic acid before and during pregnancy can reduce the risk of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, in babies.

Cell growth and development: It is necessary for the production and maintenance of new cells in the body. It helps to make DNA, RNA, and other genetic material, which are essential for cell division and growth.

Red blood cell production: It is involved in the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body.

Cardiovascular health: It also plays a role in maintaining cardiovascular health, by helping to reduce levels of homocysteine in the blood. High levels of homocysteine have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

Cognitive function: It plays a role in cognitive function and may help reduce the risk of age-related cognitive decline.

Depression: Some research suggests that it may help alleviate symptoms of depression, although more research is needed in this area.

Why is Folic Acid Important in Pregnancy

What are the Benefits of Folic acid 

  • Helps the baby’s brain, skull, and spine to develop normally. 
  • Folic acid reduces the risk of cleft lip, palate, heart, and urinary tract defects in newborns.
  • Prevents birth defects and pregnancy complications. It supports fetal development.
  • Supports heart health: may help reduce levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
  • Reduces the risk of certain cancers: it has been linked to a reduced risk of certain cancers, including colon, breast, and pancreatic cancer.
  • Supports brain function: Helps support brain function and reduces the risk of age-related cognitive decline.
  • Helps with red blood cell formation which transports oxygen throughout the body.
  • Reduces the risk of stroke.
What are the Benefits of Folic acid 

What happens due to deficiency of folic acid

Deficiency during pregnancy can be caused by several factors, including:

  • Diabetes-associated: congenital disabilities and autism may be increased by deficiency during pregnancy. 
  • If a pregnant woman: does not consume enough folic acid to meet this increased demand, she may develop a deficiency.
  • Inadequate dietary intake: found in green leafy vegetables, fruits, legumes, and fortified cereals. If a pregnant woman’s diet lacks these sources it can lead to deficiency.
  • Problems with absorption: Some medical conditions such as celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and bariatric surgery can impair the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. 
  • Medications: Certain medications, such as antiepileptic drugs and sulfasalazine, can interfere with folic acid absorption and increase the risk of deficiency.
  • Genetic variations: Some individuals may have genetic variations that affect the way their bodies process and utilize the vitamin, leading to a higher risk of deficiency.

Symptoms of Folic acid deficiency

  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Pale skin
  • Mouth sores
  • Swollen tongue
  • Reduced sense of taste or smell
  • Diarrhea
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
  • Depression
  • Confusion or forgetfulness

Deficiency of folic can result in birth defects for example spina bifida.

If you suspect that you have a deficiency, it is important to talk to your doctor, who may recommend a blood test to check your levels.

Symptoms of Folic acid deficiency

How to overcome deficiency of folic acid in pregnancy

If you are pregnant and have a deficiency, here are some steps you can take to increase your levels:

  • Take a prenatal vitamin: Prenatal vitamins contain which is essential for fetal development. 
  • Avoid cooking folic acid-rich foods excessively: as is water-soluble, so cooking rich foods in large amounts of water can cause the nutrient to leach out. Instead, cook these foods in a minimal amount of water or steam them.
  • Avoid alcohol and tobacco: Alcohol and tobacco use can interfere with the absorption , so it is important to avoid them during pregnancy.
  • Consult with your healthcare provider: Your healthcare provider can perform a blood test to check your levels and recommend a course of action if you are deficient. 

Remember,  is important for the healthy development of your baby’s brain and spinal cord. If you are pregnant, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider about your intake and take steps to ensure that you are getting enough.


Q: What is folic acid?

A: It is a B vitamin that is important for healthy cell growth and development. It is also known as folate or vitamin B9.

Q: Why is folic acid important?

A: It is important because it helps the body to make new cells. It is particularly important during pregnancy because it can help prevent birth defects in the baby’s brain and spine.

Q: What foods are high in folic acid?

A: Some foods that are high in folic acid include leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, beans and lentils, fortified breads and cereals, and liver according to Harvard School of Public Health.

Q: Who needs to take folic acid supplements?

A: supplements are recommended for pregnant women and women who are planning to become pregnant. They may also be recommended for people who have a deficiency in or for people who have certain medical conditions.

Q: Is folic acid the same as folate?

A: Folic acid and folate are similar, but not exactly the same. Folate is the natural form of vitamin B9 that is found in food, while is the synthetic form that is added to supplements and fortified foods. The body can convert and folate, but some people may not be able to do this effectively.

Q: How much folic acid should I take?

A: The recommended daily intake for adults is 400 micrograms per day. Pregnant women should take 600-800 micrograms per day. Your doctor may recommend a higher dose if you have a deficiency or a medical condition that requires it.


By understanding the importance of folic acid and making sure to get enough of it through diet and/or supplements, you can help support your overall health and well-being.