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Folic Acid


What is it?
Folic acid is a water-soluble B vitamin that is also known as PGA (pteroylglutamic acid). The precise term for folic acid from food sources is folate. Folacin is another term that is often used to refer to folic acid.

What does it do?
Folic acid plays an important role in cell division and growth by acting as a co-enzyme that transports carbon from one compound to another during amino acid metabolism and nucleic acid synthesis. By preventing damage to cellular DNA, folic acid may reduce the risk of colon polyps, colorectal cancer and cervical cancer. During pregnancy, folic acid can be vital to healthy fetal growth.

Where do you get it?
Folic acid is found in many types of foods, particularly:

  • liver
  • yeast
  • green leafy vegetables
  • legumes
  • orange juice
  • oranges
  • cereals
  • breads
  • wheat germ

The following chart lists some good sources of folic acid.

Good Sources of Folic Acid



Folic Acid (micrograms)

Lentils, boiled

4 oz. (1/2 cup)


Oatmeal, instant

1 packet


Asparagus, boiled

6 spears


Spinach, boiled

4 oz. (1/2 cup)


Lima beans

4 oz. (1/2 cup)


Orange juice from concentrate

4 oz. (1/2 cup)


Chickpeas, canned

4 oz. (1/2 cup)


Broccoli, boiled

4 oz. (1/2 cup)


Folate, the form of folic acid that occurs naturally in food, is only about half as available to the body as the folic acid in supplements or in fortified foods that have had folic acid added to them.

Because folic acid is not a very stable vitamin, about half the amount that comes from food is easily lost during cooking, processing, meal preparation and storage. To preserve it, use quick-cook methods (such as steaming in very little water), avoid overcooking vegetables, and eat raw fruits and vegetables frequently.

How much do we need?
Different sources recommend different amounts of folic acid, depending on the health effect desired.

  • The Recommended Dietary Allowance to avoid deficiencies is 180 micrograms for women and 200 micrograms for men.
  • The U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance, which is aimed at promoting health and preventing chronic disease, is 400 micrograms a day.
  • The U.S. Public Health Service recommends that women of childbearing age get 400 micrograms from a pill or supplement daily to prevent NTD, or neural-tube birth defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly. This is also the amount recommended for people with high levels of the amino acid homocysteine in their blood. High levels of homocysteine have been associated with the risk of heart disease and stroke.

The typical U.S. diet provides about 200 to 300 micrograms of folic acid from food sources. In January 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began requiring food manufacturers to fortify all enriched food products with folic acid. This is expected to boost the daily intake from food another 100 micrograms a day. Products that contain the following foods are affected:

  • white flour
  • pasta
  • noodles
  • breads
  • rolls
  • cereals
  • white rice
  • farina
  • cornmeal

If your diet includes five to nine servings of fresh fruits and vegetables and at least six servings of breads and cereals, you are probably getting enough folate to avoid a deficiency of folic acid. Nevertheless, most experts agree that folic acid supplements in the amount of 400 micrograms are beneficial. If you are likely to become pregnant or are a strict dieter, you should take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid daily or eat cereals rich in folate.

Certain clinical conditions such as megaloblastic anemia and sprue have been linked with deficiencies of folic acid. Chemotherapy also has been associated with deficiency; ethotrexate acts as an antagonist to folate to reduce tumor growth. Periods of rapid growth, especially during fetal development, also can result in a deficiency.

People with folic-acid deficiencies risk adverse effects that include:

  • impaired cell division
  • adverse effect on growth in rapidly growing tissues
  • clinical depression, especially melancholia, as well as less responsiveness to anti-depressants such as fluoxetine (Prozac)

Is it safe?
Generally, yes; there has been no upper limit established for the safe consumption of folic acid.

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