Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate (which is found naturally in foods), also known as vitamin B9
Men and women—especially women of reproductive age—need folic acid in their diet
How much folate per day you should take depends on your age, life stage, and gender
Pregnant and breastfeeding women and teens need more than others of the same age
Did you know that folic acid is not just for pregnant women?
As the synthetic form of folate, folic acid is commonly called the “pregnancy vitamin” because it ensures the healthy development of a baby’s nervous system.† That’s why the CDC recommends that, in addition to eating folate-rich food as part of a healthy diet, all women of child-bearing age should take a daily dose of folic acid to help reduce the risk of major birth defects of the baby’s spine and brain.1
But who else needs folic acid? And how much folic acid a day should you take?
Let’s dig into what the research says.
Who Needs Folic Acid?
As an essential water-soluble vitamin, everyone needs folate every day, including men, women, and children. How much folic acid to take per day, though, depends on age, life stage, and gender.
For instance, how much folic acid should a pregnant woman take? Women and teens who are pregnant or breastfeeding need more folic acid than others of the same age. In fact, many healthcare professionals recommend that all women of reproductive age increase their folate /folic acid intake even before they're expecting. Why? Because roughly 50% of U.S. pregnancies are unplanned, and because major birth defects of the baby’s brain or spine may occur three to four weeks after conception—before most women realize they’re pregnant.1 That’s why folic acid is included in women’s multivitamins such as Nature Made’s Women’s Multivitamin as well as Prenatal Multivitamins.
Folic acid plays a vital role in the healthy development of baby’s nervous system—a process that occurs early in pregnancy.† Because some women might not know they’re pregnant in these first few weeks, it’s critical that all women of reproductive age take the recommended dosage of folic acid daily. Eating healthful diets with adequate folic acid may reduce a woman’s risk of having a baby born with a neural tube defect. These serious birth defects affect the spine and spinal cord (spina bifida) or brain (anencephaly).2
But folic acid benefits children, men—and all women whether they’re pregnant or not. For instance, the body needs this B-complex vitamin to help support nervous system function and normal red blood cell formation, as well as other important roles. 3-4,†
Folate is a more generic term that refers to both natural folates (found in food) and synthetic folic acid (found in fortified foods and supplements). Fortified foods include breads, pasta, rice, breakfast cereals, and corn masa flour. While a wide variety of foods naturally contain folate, the form that is added to foods and supplements (folic acid) is better absorbed.5
Is it good to take folic acid every day? Absolutely! Folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin, which means your body uses what it needs, and then excretes what it doesn’t need through urine. Because your body doesn’t store folic acid, it needs to replace it every day to function properly.
If you’re wondering, “How much folic acid should I take per day?” It really depends on several factors—including age, life stage, and gender—outlined in the table below.
In addition, people who regularly consume alcohol should strive for at least 600 mcg of folate daily because alcohol can weaken its absorption. 5
How long should you take folic acid? For women who are trying to conceive, it’s recommended to take a prenatal vitamin containing at least 400 micrograms of folic acid each day, starting at least one month before pregnancy and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.6
When should you take folic acid? If you’re taking a folic acid supplement, take it at the same time every day, whether that’s in the morning or at night, with water and a meal. Your best bet? Follow the supplement package directions.
As mentioned above, the big difference between folate vs. folic acid is that one occurs naturally in food (folate) and the other is manufactured (folic acid). But another major difference regarding folate versus folic acid, is that folate is unstable and less “bioavailable,” meaning it’s harder to digest, absorb, and metabolize in the body. In contrast, folic acid is much more stable and bioavailable, making it easier for the body to digest, absorb, and metabolize.9 In addition, compared to the folate added to fortify some foods, the folic acid in supplements is better absorbed than that from food sources—85% vs. 50%, respectively.5
The Bottom Line
Men, women, and children all need folic acid. How much folic acid per day depends on your age, gender, and life stage. Specifically, it is important to know how much folic acid to take during pregnancy simply because of the growing demands of the developing baby and the critical role it plays in the proper development of the baby's nervous system. While you can consume folate by eating certain healthy foods, you can also take folic acid in supplements such as Nature Made’s Folic Acid (B9) supplement.†
Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. “Human Vitamin and Mineral Requirements, Chapter 4: Folate and folic acid.” 2001. Accessed on: August 13, 2021. http://www.fao.org/3/y2809e/y2809e.pdf