Folic acid is the synthetic form of the B-vitamin folate. Folate naturally occurs in a variety of foods but your body absorbs folic acid better, reports the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The amount of folic acid recommended to prevent deficiency in a 50-year old woman is quite small and you can easily meet this requirement by eating certain foods on a regular basis. If you require larger amounts of folic acid for therapeutic purposes, you will likely require supplementation but consult with your doctor first.
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Both men and women aged 19 or older should get at least 400 mcg of folic acid daily in their diets, according to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. If you happen to be pregnant or the possibility of pregnancy exists, consume at least 600 mcg daily to reduce the risks of problems like neural tube defects and low birth weight.
Many foods are fortified with folic acid and the other B-vitamins, and in some instances, just one small serving provides 100 percent of the recommended value. For example, just ¾ of a cup of fortified cereal fills 100 percent of the daily folic acid intake. Other foods typically fortified with folic acid include bread, pasta and rice. Read product labels to see if folic acid has been added to the food and the percent of the daily value per serving.
Folic Acid and Homocysteine Levels
As you reach your 50s, your risk for developing certain diseases begins to increase due to factors like hormonal shifts and other age-related changes. Elevated levels of the amino acid homocysteine might increase your risk for some of these problems, like heart disease and stroke reports the NIH. Potentially damaging mechanisms of action include damaging the cells lining the blood vessels, which impacts blood flow and promoting blood clots. Folic acid appears to control levels of this potentially dangerous amino acid and getting enough of it through diet and supplementation might help you decrease your risk of these problems.
Folic Acid and Cancer
The MSKCC reports low levels of this nutrient have been linked with an increased risk of certain types of cancer, such as that of the breast, pancreas and colon. This does not mean that getting enough folic acid can guarantee you will not get these types of cancers but this research suggests that one or more mechanisms of action of folic acid might offer protection against these diseases.
You should not supplement with folic acid without the supervision of your doctor. Taking more than 1,000 mcg daily could mask symptoms of a B-12 deficiency. The NIH recommends anyone 50 or older get checked for B-12 levels before taking folic acid supplements as older individuals are more likely to have a deficiency. Since taking folic acid can correct some, but not all, of the symptoms of inadequate B-12 levels, such as anemia, you might not realize you lack sufficient stores. Failure to treat a B-12 deficiency can lead to permanent problems like irreversible nerve damage.
The use of certain medications could interfere with folic acid acid levels in the body, meaning you might need supplementation to ensure healthy levels. The University of Maryland Medical Center notes the use of the following medication can lower levels of folic acid in the blood: antacids, H2 blockers, proton pump inhibitors, bile acid sequestrants, carbamazepine, anti-inflammatory drugs, sulfasalazine and triamterine.