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Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid)
Folic acid, also called folate or vitamin B9, is critical to many body processes, including the health of your nervous system, blood, and cells. It protects against heart disease, birth defects, osteoporosis, and certain cancers.
Folic acid protects the body against, and helps treat, many disorders, including the following.
Folic acid is also beneficial in the following ways: prevents anemia, which can decrease the function and number of red blood cells, helps treat headaches, may relieve rheumatoid arthritis, can help with infertility treatment, may help acne, and may be useful for people with AIDS.
Foods that contain a significant amount of folic acid include liver, lentils, rice germ, brewer's yeast, soy flour, black-eyed peas, navy beans, kidney beans, peanuts, spinach, turnip greens, lima beans, whole wheat, and asparagus.
Food processing (for example, boiling, heating) can destroy folic acid. Storing food at room temperature for long periods of time can also destroy its folic acid content. As of January 1998, commercial grain products are fortified with folic acid.
B9 supplements are available as both folic acid and folinic acid. While folate is more stable, folinic acid is the most efficient form for raising body stores of the nutrient.
How to Take It
Folic acid comes as tablets, or as an injection that you get from your health care provider. Tablets are available in doses from 40 mcg to 1,000 mcg. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for folic acid depends on your age and sex (see below). Unless you are pregnant, you will likely get enough folic acid from your diet. Check with your health care provider before you start taking supplements and before giving folic acid supplements to a child.
The RDA for folic acid is as follows.
Folic acid toxicity is rare. High doses (above 15 mg) can cause stomach problems, sleep problems, skin reactions, and seizures. Folic acid supplementation can mask vitamin B12 deficiency, which can cause permanent damage to your nervous system. Folic acid supplementation should always include vitamin B12.
Birth control medications, anticonvulsants (such as phenytoin), and cholesterol-lowering medications, particularly cholestyramine, may effect the levels of folic acid in the blood as well as the body's ability to use this vitamin.
Sulfasalazine, a medication used for ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, may affect the absorption of folic acid.
Methotrexate, a medication used for the treatment of cancer and resistant rheumatoid arthritis, increases the need for folic acid.
When taken for long periods of time, aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and other anti-inflammatory medications can also increase the need for folic acid.
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