Is Folic Acid Only For Pregnancy?

Any woman who’s been pregnant knows that some vitamins are prioritized. Physicians often encourage pregnant women to take DHEA, iron, and folic acid because the nutrients are critical components needed for fetal development. In some cases, a general prenatal vitamin can provide proper levels to meet nutritional needs for mom and baby. But many women are unsure if those essential nutrients are equally important when not pregnant.

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All women need folic acid

Folic acid or vitamin B9 gets all the attention during pregnancy. Most women should be getting 400mg of folic acid every day, even when not pregnant. While much of the conversation focuses on ensuring a woman’s body can provide essential nutrients for a fetus during pregnancy, research suggests that folic acid benefits aren’t limited to fetal development.

Folic acid and overall health

A link has been found between folic acid and a reduced incidence of type 2 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Similarly, people with a B9 deficiency have a higher risk of developing depression, anemia, low bone density, and even allergic reactions. Additionally, low folic acid levels can also impact brain and memory function.

The push to get more B9

One of the main reasons health professionals encourage women to consume more folic acid is because roughly 40% of pregnancies worldwide are unplanned. A pregnancy discovery doesn’t occur for many women until nearly a month after conception. Meanwhile, developmentally a lot happens to a fetus in the first month. Folic acid is directly linked with neural tube development, which eventually becomes the brain and spinal cord. This development takes place within the first 4-6 weeks. Physicians recommend that women regularly take folic acid, regardless of pregnancy status, to prevent the risk of neural tube defects.

Ways to get more folic acid

While folic acid is essential and a literal building block for life, getting enough of the vitamin can be a tall order. Usually, vitamin B9 is found in fortified or enriched foods, especially grain-based options like bread, cereals, and pasta. But folic acid is naturally found in leafy green vegetables, beans, and oranges. Women can also get folic acid in multivitamins. Look for a USP or NSF seal on vitamin labels to ensure that the supplements were made following GCMP standards and are accurate to the ingredient list and potency. Women are encouraged to get 400mg of vitamin B9 per day, with women who are or may become pregnant often are increased to 800mg. Dose increases should be upon physician recommendation only as overdosing on folic acid can hide vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms.

Planning for the future

Although folic acid is a vitamin often prioritized during pregnancy, all men and women can benefit from consuming 400mg a day. Even though B9 is found in several commonly eaten foods, most people can’t rely on diet alone to get sufficient levels of folic acid. Because of the known risk of deficiency, many physicians will recommend that women take a multivitamin that contains 100% of the RDA to prevent a vitamin deficiency.

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