Folate and folic acid are forms of a water-soluble B vitamin. Folate occurs naturally in food, and folic acid is the synthetic form of this vitamin. Since 1998, folic acid has been added to cold cereals, flour, breads, pasta, bakery items, cookies, and crackers, as required by federal law. Foods that are naturally high in folate include leafy vegetables (such as spinach, broccoli, and lettuce), okra, asparagus, fruits (such as bananas, melons, and lemons) beans, yeast, mushrooms, meat (such as beef liver and kidney), orange juice, and tomato juice.
Folic acid is used for preventing and treating low blood levels of folate (folate deficiency), as well as its complications, including "tired blood" (anemia) and the inability of the bowel to absorb nutrients properly. Folic acid is also used for other conditions commonly associated with folate deficiency, including ulcerative colitis, liver disease, alcoholism, and kidney dialysis.
Women who are pregnant or might become pregnant take folic acid to prevent miscarriage and "neural tube defects," birth defects such as spina bifida that occur when the fetus's spine and back do not close during development. Women also take folic acid before and during pregnancy to prevent other complications such as increased blood pressure during pregnancy and to improve the growth and development of the child.
Some people use folic acid to prevent various types of cancer, including colon cancer or cervical cancer, as well as to reduce nerve pain in people with high levels of blood sugar (diabetes). It is also used to prevent heart disease and stroke, as well as to reduce blood levels of a chemical called homocysteine. High homocysteine levels might be a risk for heart disease.
Folic acid is used for pimples on the skin, gum inflammation, memory loss, Alzheimer's disease, age-related hearing loss, preventing the eye disease age-related macular degeneration (AMD), reducing signs of aging, weak bones (osteoporosis), a disorder that causes a strong urge to move ones legs (restless legs syndrome; RLS), sleep problems, depression or feeling down, seizures, nerve pain, muscle or bone pain, AIDS, a skin disease called vitiligo, an inflammatory disease called gout, and an inherited disease called Fragile-X syndrome. It is also used for reducing harmful side effects of treatment with the medications nitroglycerin, lometrexol or methotrexate. Folic acid is used to help the body make sperm.
Some people apply folic acid directly to the gum for treating gum infections.
If it is difficult for the patient to take folic acid by mouth, it is sometimes given with a needle for preventing and treating low blood levels of folate (folate deficiency). Folic acid is also given with a needle for chronic fatigue syndrome, a condition with chronic fever, aches, and tiredness.
Folic acid is often used in combination with other B vitamins.
How it works
Folate is needed for the proper development of the human body. It is involved in producing the genetic material called DNA and in numerous other bodily functions.
Taking folic acid improves folate deficiency.
Folic acid is LIKELY SAFE for most people when taken by mouth or injected into the body. Most adults do not experience any side effects when used in doses less than 1 mg daily
Folic acid is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when taken by mouth in large doses, long-term. High doses of folic acid might cause abdominal cramps, diarrhea, rash, sleep disorders, irritability, confusion, nausea, stomach upset, behavior changes, skin reactions, seizures, gas, excitability, and other side effects.There is some concern that taking too much folic acid for a long period of time might cause serious side effects. Some research suggests that taking folic acid in doses of 800 mcg to 1.2 mg might increase the risk of heart attack in people who have heart problems. Other research suggests that taking these high doses might also increase the risk of cancer such as lung or prostate cancer.
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Folic acid isLIKELY SAFEwhen taken by mouth appropriately during pregnancy and breast-feeing. Taking 300-400 mcg of folic acid daily is commonly used during pregnancy to prevent birth defects.
Procedures to widen narrowed arteries (angioplasty): Using folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 intravenously (by IV) or by mouth might worsen narrowed arteries. Folic acid should not be used by people recovering from this procedure.
Cancer: Early research suggests that taking 800 mcg to 1 mg of folic acid daily might increase the risk of cancer. Until more is known, people with a history of cancer should avoid high doses of folic acid.
Heart disease: Early research suggests that taking folic acid plus vitamin B6 might increase the risk for heart attack in people with a history of heart disease.
Malaria: Early research suggests that taking folic acid plus iron might increase the risk of death or need for treatment in hospital in areas of the world where malaria is common.
Anemia caused by vitamin B12 deficiency: Taking folic acid might mask anemia caused by vitamin B12 deficiency and delay appropriate treatment.
Seizure disorder: Taking folic acid supplements might make seizures worse in people with seizure disorders, particularly in high doses.
There is some concern that taking large amounts of folic acid with 5-fluorouracil might increase some side effects of 5-fluorouracil, especially stomach problems. Talk with your healthcare provider before taking folic acid.Capecitabine (Xeloda)
There is some concern that taking large amounts of folic acid might increase the side effects of capecitabine, especially stomach problems like diarrhea and vomiting. Talk with your healthcare provider before taking folic acid.Fosphenytoin (Cerebyx)
Fosphenytoin (Cerebyx) is used for seizures. The body breaks down fosphenytoin (Cerebyx) to get rid of it. Folic acid can increase how quickly the body breaks down fosphenytoin (Cerebyx). Taking folic acid along with fosphenytoin (Cerebyx) might decrease the effectiveness of fosphenytoin (Cerebyx) for preventing seizures.Methotrexate (MTX, Rheumatrex)
Methotrexate (MTX, Rheumatrex) works by decreasing the effects of folic acid in the body's cells. Taking folic acid pills along with methotrexate might decrease the effectiveness of methotrexate (MTX, Rheumatrex).Phenobarbital (Luminal)
Phenobarbital (Luminal) is used for seizures. Taking folic acid can decrease how well phenobarbital (Luminal) works for preventing seizures.Phenytoin (Dilantin)
The body breaks down phenytoin (Dilantin) to get rid of it. Folic acid might increase how quickly the body breaks down phenytoin (Dilantin). Taking folic acid and taking phenytoin (Dilantin) might decrease the effectiveness of phenytoin (Dilantin) and increase the possibility of seizures.Primidone (Mysoline)
Primidone (Mysoline) is used for seizures. Folic acid might cause seizures in some people. Taking folic acid along with primidone (Mysoline) might decrease how well primidone works for preventing seizures.