Your Health: Do all women need folic acid?

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Elizabeth McGuire, health educator

 Most people think that only women who are pregnant or women who are thinking about pregnancy should have folic acid in their diet.

Not true, all women should aim to get at least 400 micrograms (400mcg) of folic acid each day.

Folic acid might also have other benefits for men and women of any age. Some studies show that folic acid might help prevent heart disease, stroke, some cancers, and possibly Alzheimer’s disease. 

There are a couple of ways of getting folic acid in your diet. 

Some people take a daily vitamin that has folic acid in it. 

Most multivitamins sold in the U.S. have enough. If you are like most people, you don’t get the amount of folic acid you need from your diet, and research shows that the body actually absorbs the synthetic version of this vitamin (found in supplements and enriched foods) much better than the version that occurs naturally in certain foods. But probably the easiest way to get folic acid is by eating a serving of breakfast cereal or other foods that contains 100 percent of the daily value (DV) for folic acid each day. Sometimes, the label will say folate instead of folic acid, it is the same thing. 

Here are just a few of cereals that have 100 percent of the DV folic acid: General Mills Multi-Grain Cheerios, General Mills Total Raisin Bran, Kellogg’s Healthy Choice Almond Crunch with Raisins, Kellogg’s Special K, and Malt-O-Meal. To see a complete list of cereals, go to www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/cereals.htm.  Some other foods that you can eat to get folic acid are broccoli, bananas, peas, spaghetti, asparagus, oranges, nuts, bread, strawberries, and boiled collard greens.     

How much folic acid should you take?  Check off the one that applies to you.

o You are able to get pregnant. Take 400 mcg of folic acid every day.

o You are pregnant. Take 600mcg of folic acid every day.

o You are breastfeeding. Take 500mcg of folic acid every day.

o You had a baby with spina bifida or anencephaly and want to get pregnant again. Talk with your doctor, and ask for a prescription for a higher dose of folic acid. You should take 4,000micrograms (4,000mcg) starting at lease one to three months before getting pregnant and during the first 3 months of pregnancy. That’s 10 times the normal amount! But don’t try to get the larger amount by taking more than one multivitamin or prenatal vitamin a day. You could get too much of another vitamin that could harm you or your baby.

o You had a baby with spina bifida or anencephaly. You are not planning to have another baby. Take 400 mcg of folic acid every day.

o If none of these above apply, you should at least get 400mcg of folic acid every day.  

Information cited from: National Women’s Health Information Center and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed December 2010.