Thirteen vitamins are considered essential to the health and function of your body. This means that you must consume them each day or you will develop symptoms. Folic acid is a form of the B vitamin folate. These terms are used interchangeably and both forms are healthful for your body. You can consume folate every day, but there is a maximum daily intake of folic acid.
Daily Intake Recommendations
Folate is naturally found in food, and folic acid is the form of folate that is used in multivitamins, supplements and fortified foods. The current daily intake recommendations for folate and folic acid are 400 mcg per day for adults. The maximum amount of folic acid that you should consume each day is set at 1,000 mcg, according to Oregon State University. Therefore, you should get the majority of your daily intake from folate-containing foods and limit your folic acid supplementation to a standard multivitamin. The Harvard School of Public Health states that a standard multivitamin contains around 400 mcg of folic acid.
Folic acid is found in multivitamins, supplements and fortified breakfast cereals, breads and grain products. Natural food sources of folate include green leafy vegetables, fruits, asparagus, beans, peas and nuts. If you eat a balanced diet that contains these foods, you most likely get ample amounts of folate. However if you do not consume enough each day, you can develop a deficiency. A daily multivitamin ensures that you get enough folic acid each day in addition to the foods that you eat.
Folic acid or folate deficiency is not common, but it can occur. A folic acid deficiency can cause graying of the hair, mouth ulcers, peptic ulcers, poor growth, a swollen tongue, diarrhea and certain types of anemias. The Harvard School of Public Health states that pregnant mothers, breast feeding mothers and people who drink alcohol regularly may need 100 mcg to 200 mcg of additional folic acid each day in order to avoid symptoms.
If you get the majority of your B vitamins through food, then you do not need to worry about taking too much. Since your body excretes excess folic acid through the urine, high doses of this supplement has not been shown to cause major health concerns, but stick to the daily limit to avoid problems. If you are taking medications, it is always a good idea to talk with your health-care provider before your increase your intake of vitamins, because they may interfere with how your medication works.
Folic acid is the supplemental, inactive form of the naturally occurring B vitamin folate. Once absorbed into your body, folic acid is converted into metabolically active folate. Folate is a required cofactor in several important metabolic processes, meaning these chemical reactions do not occur unless folate is present. Make sure you incorporate 400 micrograms of folic acid or folate in your diet daily to prevent a deficiency.
Red Blood Cell Production
Your bone marrow produces more than 65 million new red blood cells each day for every 10 pounds of body weight. This remarkable production rate requires a constant supply of folate, iron, vitamin B-12 and other nutrients. If you have a folate deficiency, the formation of genetic material to produce new red blood cells slows, leading to decreased bone marrow productivity. As old red blood cells die, there are not enough new cells to take their place, which eventually can lead to anemia. Replenishing your body's folate supply reverses this form of anemia. Spinach, Brussels sprouts, collards and other greens are rich sources of natural folate.
Nervous System Development
The necessity of folate to produce new cells is particularly important during the early weeks of pregnancy, when the brain and spinal cord form. A folate deficiency during this period increases the risk of nervous system birth defects, specifically, anencephaly and spina bifida. With anencephaly, the brain fails to develop normally, often resulting in miscarriage or stillbirth. Babies born alive with anencephaly typically die shortly after birth. Spina bifida describes abnormal development of the lower spinal cord, which varies in severity. The defect is minor in some babies, but severe spina bifida may cause paralysis below the level of the spinal cord abnormality. Folic acid is added to processed cereal grains in the United States to reduce the incidence of nervous system birth defects caused by a deficiency of this vitamin.
Amino Acid Metabolism
Your body uses amino acids to build proteins, converting amino acids into other chemicals with the help of folate-dependent cofactors. The conversion of homocysteine to methionine is one important example of folate-dependent amino acid metabolism. Folate deficiency impedes this conversion, leading to a buildup of homocysteine in your bloodstream. Elevated homocysteine levels are associated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Regulation of Gene Expression
Every cell of your body carries the same genetic information. The function and metabolic activity of any given cell is a reflection of what genes are active, or expressed. Folate is involved in a chemical reaction that keeps genes "silent." Folate deficiency may lead to loss of this mechanism to control gene expression. Folate-dependent control of gene expression may influence your risk of developing cancer and is the focus of ongoing biomedical research.