Folic acid is the human-made version of folate, a B vitamin that plays several roles in the body. During pregnancy, one of its most important functions is preventing a group of birth abnormalities called neural tube defects.
The neural tube is a structure in the human fetus that develops into the brain and spinal cord.
Neural tube defects happen when the neural tube does not close early in development. This dysfunction can cause severe disability, and it can even be fatal.
This article explains the benefits of taking folic acid for pregnancy, when to take it, and how much to take.
Folic acid is a synthetic (human-made) form of folate. Folate is a type of B vitamin.
Everyone needs folate, but it is especially important during pregnancy because of its role in preventing birth abnormalities.
The Food and Nutrition Board recommend that adults get 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid per day, which should increase to 600 mcg during pregnancy and then reduce slightly to 500 mcg when breastfeeding.
Folic acid is the manufactured form of folate, an important B vitamin that occurs naturally.
Learn more about folic acid and folate here.
A person can get folic acid in their diet by taking supplements and eating foods fortified with folic acid, such as some breakfast cereals. A person can check the nutrition label to see whether a food is fortified with folic acid.
Many foods — including spinach, avocado, and banana — contain folate, the naturally occurring form of this vitamin.
The MTHFR gene myth
In the alternative health community, a popular myth suggests that people with certain variants in the MTHFR gene cannot process folic acid. However, research has shown that this is not true.
Proponents of this myth claim that pregnant people need a different form of folic acid or even that folic acid is harmful. They may use this myth to sell supplements or promote alternative health scams.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), MTHFR gene variants are common. MTHFR mutations are not an illness, and people with mutations in this gene do not require an alternative form of folic acid.
People with this genetic difference can metabolize all forms of folate, including folic acid.
Moreover, folic acid is the only type of folate directly linked to the prevention of neural tube defects. Therefore, people should take folic acid regardless of which type of MTHFR gene they carry.
Folic acid helps the body make new cells, including red blood cells.
People who do not get enough folic acid may develop a condition called folate-deficiency anemia.
In people with this condition, the body cannot make enough red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body. This impairment can affect many aspects of health, including organ function.