Folic acid supplements are preparations a person consumes to add folate into his diet. Folic acid is man-made folate, which is a nutrient naturally found in a wide variety of food sources, such as dried beans, leafy vegetables, and beets. Most people get the folate they need by consuming a balanced diet. In some cases, however, a person doesn’t get enough of the nutrient and chooses to supplement. Some people may also take folic acid supplements because of specific health needs, such as pregnancy.
Folate is naturally present in foods such as liver, eggs, beans, leafy green vegetables, and asparagus. A person who eats a lot of fruit may get a significant amount of folate by eating oranges, strawberries, and melons. A person may also consume this nutrient by eating breads and breakfast cereals that are fortified with it. Those who’d like to take folic acid supplements to get more may find the nutrient in a wide variety of vitamin pills.
When a person takes folic acid supplements, he may help his body in a number of ways. The nutrient is important in the formation of both red blood cells and genetic material. It also plays a role in the metabolism of protein and the growth and division of cells. Folic acid also helps reduce levels of homocysteine, a type of amino acid, in a person’s bloodstream. This is an important benefit, as high levels of this amino acid may lead to an increased risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke.
While everyone needs folic acid, or folate, it is particularly important for pregnant women. Folic acid helps a woman’s body produce the additional blood cells needed during pregnancy and supports the production of genetic material. It is also known to help prevent birth defects. For this reason, many doctors recommend folic acid supplements during pregnancy.
Generally, folic acid supplements are safe, and many people get at least some folic acid if they take a multivitamin. Others may opt to take a supplement that contains only folic acid rather than several different nutrients. It’s important to note, however, that supplementing with too much folic acid can harm the body. If a person has low levels of vitamin B12 in his body and supplements with more than 1,000 micrograms (.001 milligrams) of folic acid daily, he could suffer nerve damage. Anyone can be deficient in vitamin B12, but deficiencies are most likely to develop in people who consume few dairy products, eggs, and meats as well as those who are over 50 years old.