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Do You Need to Take Folic Acid Even if You’re not Pregnant?

by Heidi Hoff on in Ask The Expert, Family, General, Health Issues, Health Tips, Learning, Lifestyle, Nutrition, Parenting, Pregnancy and Breastfeeding, and Women's Health

Do You Need to Take Folic Acid Even if You’re not Pregnant?

You likely started taking a folic acid supplement even before you became pregnant and continued until you delivered. Should folic acid still be part of your everyday health regimen during your reproductive years?

The answer is a resounding yes!

What’s the difference between folic acid and folate? 

Both are forms of vitamin B9. Folate is found in foods like dark leafy green vegetables, nuts, peas and beans and fruits like melons, bananas, oranges and strawberries. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate. It’s the form that’s in prenatal vitamins and found in fortified pastas and cereals.The terms folate and folic acid can be used interchangeably.

What is MTHF (Methyltetrahydrofolate)?

This handful of a word is the activated form of folic acid. Your body will convert folic acid into it’s active form, MTHF (thank goodness for acronyms) with the help of an enzyme and gene called MTHFR. MTHF is crucial for neurotransmitter formation in the brain, as well as for the production of SAMe – a critical compound involved in cellular energy.

Some individuals have a ‘polymorphism’ in this gene (known as C667T) which impacts the enzyme’s ability to convert folic acid into the active form MTHF. As a result, it might be best for these individuals to consider supplementing with an active form of folic acid! Talk to your healthcare practitioner about testing for this polymorphism.  

Why you needed it pre-pregnancy 

We know that the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) can be greatly reduced by taking 0.4 mg of folic acid a day. Thankfully, women are now encouraged to take a folic acid supplement well before they even try to get pregnant.

Women who have a family history of NTD or other folic acid related birth defects, or who have had an NTD pregnancy in the past may need to increase their folic acid intake.

Also, women with celiac disease, pre-pregnancy type 1 or type 2 diabetes or who have had gastric bypass surgery should consult their health professional for appropriate folic acid dosages.

Why you still need folic acid now 

You’re anemic – folic acid helps the body make red blood cells. Not getting enough means you will produce less and larger red blood cells, a condition called megaloblastic or macrocytic anemia, leaving you feeling tired, weak and short of breath.

You want to prevent heart disease – elevated levels of homocysteine, an amino acid found in the blood, that has been linked to heart disease risk. Folic acid and other B vitamins break down homocysteine and lessen your chances of developing this deadly disease.

You want to feel less depressed – another benefit of lowering homocysteine is lowered levels of depression. Having elevated homocysteine levels can prevent blood and other nutrients from getting to the brain and interfere with serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine levels, which help regulate mood, appetite and sleep.

Whether you’re planning another pregnancy or have already completed your family, folate, or folic acid, is still a very important vitamin to keep in your daily regimen.

Here’s a list of foods that are high in folate. Aim for 400 mcg a day:

Folic acid in greens

Cooked Asparagus, 1 cup = 243 mcg
Boiled Black-Eyed Peas, ½ cup = 179 mcg
Cooked Broccoli, 1 cup = 168 mcg
Boiled White Beans, ½ cup = 132 mcg
Cooked Spinach, ½ cup = 131 mcg

Folate is important to the body in times of rapid growth. Not only is it crucial during pregnancy, it’s also important for infants and adolescents in their times of rapid development.

Getting your kids to like broccoli, spinach and asparagus give them a folate boost to fuel those all-important milestone growth spurts! 

When beginning any new natural health product regime, we always recommend you notify and discuss your health history with a qualified professional prior to supplementation. 

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