We’ve all heard it before, “If you’re trying to conceive, take folic acid.” But why? What is folic acid? How does it help? Is it different than folate? So. Many. Questions.
But don’t fear! I’m here to answer all your folic acid queries, so you understand why it’s as important as we nutritionists (and of course, your doctor) say it is.
What is Folic Acid?
It is a form of the essential B vitamin, B-9. Maybe you’ve heard of “folate” or “methylfolate” as well? Those are also forms of the same vitamin. Most likely, you’ve probably seen the words folic acid most often – that’s because it’s the synthetic, stable version of B-9. It’s what you typically find in vitamins and is used to fortify foods like cereal, pasta, and bread. Once consumed, our body then converts folic acid to folate. Folate is the natural form of the vitamin, found in whole foods (not fortified). And lastly, methylfolate is the more bioavailable (most absorbable) form of B-9. It is especially used for men and women who have trouble absorbing the former two or have higher requirements due to specific medical needs.
Why is Folic Acid good for you?
Folic acid is good for you, even if you aren’t trying to conceive! It is necessary for DNA synthesis of red blood cells, proteins, and the nervous system, and it also assists with cellular growth, division, and reproduction. Basically, it helps produce new cells and helps keep them healthy. If you are #TTC, folic acid is a must. It plays a key role in helping prevent birth defects of the brain and spine (think: spina bifida). Because these neural tube defects develop early in pregnancy (when cells are rapidly dividing and even before some women even know they are pregnant), sufficient intake even before pregnancy has been shown to have protective benefits and reduce risks. Additionally, it can help to prevent miscarriage, preterm delivery, and maternal anemia. These are some of the major reasons we urge women to take a prenatal the entire #TTC journey.
How much folic acid should I take and when should I take it?
The Recommended Daily Allowance for any woman of child-bearing age is 400 mcg which for many can easily met with a balanced diet, including dark leafy greens, fruits, beans, and grains fortified in folic acid. The needs of those who are pregnant or trying to conceive are higher (600-1000 mcg /day) and can be met with a good prenatal, and of course, a well-balanced diet. We believe it’s best to have the vitamin (we specifically recommend 800mcg) in your system for 3 months prior to pregnancy and then continue to take throughout your pregnancy and postpartum. If you find out you’re pregnant and have not been taking a prenatal with folic acid, don’t worry! Just start as soon as you find out, and you’ll still be giving your little one a better chance at proper development.
What foods have folate?
In addition to taking a prenatal for women #TTC, you should try to consume folate in its natural form. The most folate rich foods include the following:
• Dark, leafy greens
• Citrus fruits
• Nuts and Seeds
• Wheat germ
Is folic acid good for guys too?
Absolutely! We all know we can’t make a baby without sperm - and it turns out, studies have shown that a diet rich in folate/folic acid may benefit men’s sperm and help reduce chances of birth defects. So if you’re trying to conceive with a partner, it’s a good idea for you both to take a folic acid supplement (prenatal).
The bottom line?
Folic acid, folate, and methylfolate are all forms of the essential B vitamin you need in your diet and/or vitamin regimen, not only for its cellular growth benefits, but for the healthy development of your growing baby. Good luck on your #TTC journey from all of us here at RMA of Connecticut!
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About Jill Hickey
Jill is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who has provided medical nutrition therapy in a variety of settings: while a Certified Nutrition Support Clinician in the hospital setting, she provided nutrition support to patients in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the University of Chicago Medical Center; the Surgical Intensive Care Unit and Burn Unit at Bridgeport Hospital and has assessed and counseled patients, young and old, with various medical conditions.