Women of childbearing age are urged to maintain ample amounts of folic acid in their bodies through supplementation and consumption of foods with folate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that folate/folic acid is essential to preventing major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine.

Folic acid is not just beneficial for pregnant women and their growing babies. There are several benefits behind this potent B vitamin.

Folic acid and folate are different

Although the terms folic acid and folate often are used interchangeably, they are not exactly the same thing. Folate is a general term to describe many different types of the vitamin B9, including dihydrofolate, tetrahydrofolate and more that generally occur naturally in foods. Folic acid is a synthetic type of folate that does not occur naturally. It is more stable than some other natural food folates, according to the CDC. Therefore, it is better suited for food fortification and supplement manufacture because it will not break down under heat and when exposed to light.

Where’s it found

In natural sources, folate is found mainly in dark green, leafy vegetables. It also can be obtained by eating beans, peas and nuts. Fruits also have folate, including lemons, oranges, bananas, melons, and strawberries. A combination of natural folate and folic acid can ensure that individuals get recommended levels of folate to avoid deficiency.

Benefits of consuming folic acid and folate

In addition to the reduction of neural tube, brain and spine defects, there are other reasons why folic acid or folate is necessary.

• Prevents folic acid deficiency: Many foods, like cereals and breads, are fortified with B vitamins so folic acid deficiency no longer is a problem in many countries, states the Mayo Clinic. However, if folic acid deficiency is diagnosed, supplementation can help.

• Helps the heart: Folic acid works with both vitamins B6 and B12 to control high levels of homocysteine in the blood. Elevated homocysteine might increase the risk of diseases of the heart and blood vessels.

• Makes new cells: Folate aids the body in producing and maintaining new cells, including the formation of red blood cells. People who do not have enough folate may develop anemia, according to the health supplement company PürMedica.

• Reduces depressive symptoms: The Mayo Clinic says there is some evidence that folic acid might be helpful in treating depression.

• Improves memory and thinking: While more evidence is needed to make a definitive claim, WebMD reports that folate may help prevent a decline in memory and thinking skills.

Folate is an essential B vitamin that serves many functions in the body. Maintaining healthy levels may prevent a wide variety of conditions.

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