Folic Acid Benefits: What is it Used For?

what is folic acid used for

Quick Health Scoop

  • Folate (a.k.a. vitamin B9) is naturally found in foods such as nuts, beans, leafy green vegetables, and citrus fruits
  • Folic acid (the synthetic form of folate) plays an important role in the healthy development of a baby’s nervous system during pregnancy
  • Both men and women (children and teens too) need adequate daily intakes of folate and/or folic acid
  • What is folate good for? The health benefits of folic acid include helping with normal red blood cell formation and playing a critical role in the proper development of baby’s nervous system

When you hear “folic acid,” you might immediately think “the pregnancy vitamin.” After all, doctors recommend that pregnant women take folic acid. Why? The benefits of folic acid in pregnancy help ensure the normal neural development of the baby. 

In fact, the CDC advises that all women of child-bearing age take a daily dose of 400 mcg of folic acid (on top of eating food containing folate) to help reduce the risk of major birth defects of the baby’s spine and brain.1 And in January 1998, the United States Food & Drug Administration required food manufacturers to add or enrich folic acid to foods commonly eaten, including breads, cereals, pasta, rice and other grain products to reduce the risk of neural tube defects.2,3

But what does folic acid do when not pregnant? Do men need it, too? 

What is Folic Acid?

Before digging into the details, let’s start with the basics. You might be wondering if there’s a difference between folate and folic acid, as these terms are often used interchangeably. Folate is a more generic term that refers to both natural folates (found in food) and synthetic folic acid (found in fortified food and supplements).2 You can find folate in foods such as nuts, beans, peas, lentils, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, dark green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, papaya, and folic acid in fortified foods such as breads, breakfast cereals, corn masa flour, and in dietary supplements.1,3,4 

Ready to learn more about folic acid uses and benefits? Read on.

Who Needs Folic Acid?

Now you know that women need folic acid, but do men need folic acid, too? Everyone—including men, women, and children—require this important and essential B vitamin. It’s easy to get the folic acid you need with Nature Made’s Folic Acid (B9) supplement. Folic acid is also included in most multivitamins and B-complex supplements, as well as Prenatal and Postnatal vitamins, so be sure to check your Supplement Facts labels. Compared to the folate naturally found in foods,the folic acid in supplements and fortified foods is actually better absorbed than that from food sources—85% vs. 50%, respectively.5

However, it's particularly important for women of childbearing age. In fact, many medical professionals recommend that women increase their folic acid intake even before they're expecting. That’s why folic acid is often included in multivitamins such as Nature Made’s Women’s Multivitamin and Prenatal Multivitamins.

Learn More: When to Take Prenatals

Does folic acid help you get pregnant or affect your hormones? It seems more research is needed in this area and until more is known, the take home message is to eat a healthy diet, including foods high in folate (listed above) and ensure you are getting enough folate by taking in folic acid from dietary supplements if you are trying to become pregnant.

Learn More: How Much Folic Acid Should I Take Per Day? 

What Is Folic Acid Used For?

Also known as vitamin B9, folate is a water soluble essential nutrient commonly known for its role in fetal health and development. 

What are folic acid benefits for women? It plays a critical role in the proper development of the baby’s nervous system, an important developmental process that occurs during the early/initial weeks of pregnancy. Because some women might not even know they’re pregnant in these first few weeks, it’s critical that all women of childbearing age get adequate folic acid intake.

In addition, as nearly ½ of all pregnancies are unplanned it is important that all women and teen girls who could become pregnant to consume at least 400 mcg of folic acid daily from supplements, fortified foods or both. A deficiency of folate or folic acid during pregnancy can also increase the likelihood of giving birth to a low birthweight baby. Eating healthful diets with adequate folic acid may reduce a woman’s risk of having a child with a neural tube defect. These serious birth defects affect the spine and spinal cord (spina bifida), or brain (anencephaly) of the developing baby.6 

Learn More: What are Prenatal Vitamins Good For?

What does folic acid do when not pregnant? And what are folic acid benefits for men? While folate benefits women of reproductive age, it also provides health benefits to men and women of all ages. Specifically, what is folic acid good for? The body needs this water-soluble B vitamin to help with the following:3,7  

  • Normal red blood cell formation and function
  • Supporting nervous system function
  • Converting food into cellular energy

Beyond the concern of neural tube birth defects in babies, folate deficiency can cause a certain type of anemia called “megaloblastic anemia” which can cause symptoms such as weakness, headache, and shortness of breath.3 

Learn More: What are Breastfeeding Vitamins?

The Bottom Line

Both men and women as well as children need folate (a.k.a. vitamin B9) in their diets. While you can get folate naturally through healthy foods, you can also get it in its synthetic form (folic acid) in some fortified foods and dietary supplements. What are the benefits of taking folic acid? Adequate intake as part of a healthy diet plays a critical role in reducing the risk of neural tube defects in developing babies, making it a critical nutrient for pregnant women and all women of reproductive age. But folic acid benefits also extend to men, and children as folate helps with normal red blood cell formation, helps support nervous system function, and helps support cellular energy production.

Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.

Learn More About Supplements for Women’s Health:


This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or a recommendation for any specific product. Consult your health care provider for more information. 

†These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

References 

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Folic Acid.” April 19, 2021. Accessed on: August 12, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/about.html
  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Food Standards: Amendment of Standards of Identity For Enriched Grain Products to Require Addition of Folic Acid. Federal Register 1996;61:8781-97. Accessed on: August 31, 2021. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-1996-03-05/pdf/96-5014.pdf
  3. National Institutes of Health. “Folate.” March 22, 2021. Accessed on: August 12, 2021. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-Consumer/
  4. Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute. “Folate.” December 2014. Accessed on: August 12, 2021. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/folate
  5. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Folate (Folic Acid) – Vitamin B9.” 2021. Accessed on: August 12, 2021. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/folic-acid/
  6. OASH Office on Women’s Health. “Folic Acid.” April 1, 2019. Accessed on: August 12, 2021.  https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/folic-acid
  7. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. “Folate and Folic Acid on the Nutrition and Supplement Facts Labels.” June 29, 2020. Accessed on: August 12, 2021. https://www.fda.gov/food/new-nutrition-facts-label/folate-and-folic-acid-nutrition-and-supplement-facts-labels