FOLATE IS THE POSTER CHILD of vitamins for expectant mothers one specialist dubbed it the molecular midwife. But you dont have to be supplementing for two to need more of it.
There are two forms of vitamin B9: Folate is found naturally in food, while synthetically produced folic acid is used to fortify cereals and enrich grains. Studies have found that women who take adequate amounts of folic acid before conceiving a child can reduce the risk of neural tube birth defects like spina bifida by up to 70 percent. Women who are trying to conceive should add folate to their diet plus take 400 micrograms of folic acid per day and continue it through their pregnancy, advises a 2005 report in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
What if youre not sporting a Baby on Board T-shirt? Every body requires folate to help generate red blood cells, heal wounds, build muscle, and produce certain chemicals for the brain and nervous system to function. Yet most people have trouble reaching the recommended daily allowance of 400 mcg; in fact, its one of the most common vitamin deficiencies. Its better to be safe than sorry when it comes to folate. Your best bet: Add more folate-rich meals to your diet, but take a multivitamin just to be sure. Most multis contain 400 mcg folic acid; check the label.
New Benefits For Brain & Heart
RECENT INVESTIGATIONS have given scientists a better idea of how valuable folate can be. A study at Wageningen University in the Netherlands found that taking 800 mcg folic acid every day helped preserve brain function in subjects ages 50 to 75; on memory tests, the supplement users had scores comparable to people five years younger.
Meanwhile, a report in the Archives of General Psychiatry suggested that a folate deficiency may trigger depression in some people. The researchers added that supplementation might be useful to prevent depression among women, although they didnt identify any specific amounts and cited the need for more research.
Folic acid supplements can also reduce blood levels of homocysteine, a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. The risk increases as homocysteine levels rise: Eight to 12 micromoles per liter is considered safe; 14 micromoles per liter or higher is thought to be dangerous. (A blood test can determine your numbers.) Consuming 350 to 400 mcg folic acid per day may prevent abnormal elevation of homocysteine levels, according to Kilmer McCully, M.D., author of The Homocysteine Revolution.
Folic acid is water soluble, which means your body excretes excess amounts through urine. However, most people should not take more than 1,000 mcg daily without medical supervision, says Roberta Anding, R.D., a dietitian and vitamin expert at Rice University in Houston. Too much folic acid can mask a B12 deficiency, which is common in older adults. If youve already hit 50, ask your physician or naturopath to check your B12 status before you take folic acid supplements.