Most people get enough folate through natural and fortified foods. You may need supplements if you need a higher daily amount or are at risk of not getting enough of this important vitamin.

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The body needs essential vitamins and minerals to function properly. One crucial vitamin is folate.

Many natural and processed foods either contain or are fortified with folate. It’s also found in various multivitamins and supplements sold both over the counter and by prescription.

Here’s what you need to know about folate, how much you need each day, and when you should talk with your doctor about supplementation.

Folate is the natural form of vitamin B9. This vitamin is also referred to as folic acid in its synthetic form.

Natural folate is found in foods like beans and citrus fruits. Folic acid, on the other hand, is found in fortified foods like bread, pasta, and flour, as well as supplements.

Folate is an essential nutrient needed in the process of cell division to make new, healthy cells. It’s also key for making DNA and other genetic material in the body.

Folate plays a critical role during pregnancy. Not getting enough folate may increase the chances of having a baby with a neural tube defect (spina bifida, for example). It may also increase the chance of having a baby born prematurely or at a low birth weight.

While more study is needed, there are several other areas where folate may provide benefits, such as:

Language matters

You’ll notice we use the binary terms “females,” “males,” and “women” in this article. While we realize these terms may not match your gender experience, they are the terms used by the researchers whose data was cited. We try to be as specific as possible when reporting on research participants and clinical findings.

Unfortunately, the studies, surveys, and recommendations referenced in this article didn’t report data for or may not have had participants who are transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, agender, or genderless.

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The amount of folate you need depends on your age, sex, and other health situations.

Amount of folate needed for people 14 years and older:

male400 micrograms (mcg) of dietary folate equivalents (DFE)
female400 mcg DFE
nursing 500 mcg DFE
pregnant 600 mcg DFE

Amount of folate needed for children 13 years old and younger:

6 months and under65 mcg DFE
7–12 months80 mcg DFE
1–3 years150 mcg DFE
4–8 years200 mcg DFE
9–13 years300 mcg DFE

Experts explain that most people get enough folate each day through dietary intake. The average intake for children ages 2–19 ranges from 417–547 mcg DFE. In adults, males over 20 typically get 602 mcg DFE from food sources alone, and females over 20 get 455 mcg DFE.

Groups that may not get enough daily intake of folate include women of childbearing age and non-Hispanic Black women. More specifically, the percentage of females with inadequate intake of folate even when intake from folic acid supplements are included is as follows:

  • 19% for females between 14 and 18 years old
  • 17% for females between 19 and 30 years old
  • 23% for non-Hispanic Black women

Natural food sources of folate include:

  • vegetables: asparagus, brussels sprouts, leafy greens
  • fruits: oranges, orange juice
  • meat: beef liver
  • nuts: walnuts
  • legumes: kidney beans, black-eyed peas

That said, the body doesn’t absorb the folate in foods very efficiently. As a result, many food products in the United States are enriched with folic acid to help people meet their intake requirements.

These foods include:

  • enriched breads
  • enriched rice
  • enriched flours
  • enriched pastas
  • fortified cereals

Your doctor may also suggest taking a folate or folic acid supplement if your folate needs are higher. This vitamin is listed on supplement labels by various names:

  • folate
  • folic acid
  • L-5-MTHF
  • 5-methyl-folate
  • L-methylfolate
  • methylfolate

There can be too much of a good thing. Experts have set upper limits for folic acid intake. Consuming more than this amount of folic acid each day may result in unpleasant side effects.

Daily recommendations for folate intake

ageupper limit recommendation
1–3 years old300 mcg
4–8 year old400 mcg
9–13 years old600 mcg
14–18 years old800 mcg
19 years and older1,000 mcg

Since these recommendations are for folic acid, there’s no upper limit for the amount of folate you get from natural food sources you eat. However, it’s important to note how much folate you’re receiving from fortified foods and supplements you may take.

Having a folate deficiency may lead to megaloblastic anemia.

Signs and symptoms of this blood disorder include:

Getting too much folate, on the other hand, may mask a vitamin B12 deficiency. Over time, B12 deficiency may lead to irreversible damage to the brain, spinal cord, or nerves.

Speak with your doctor before starting any new supplements. Folate does indeed interact with some drugs and vice versa. Your doctor can help you determine a safe dose depending on your specific health needs.

Potential folate drug interactions

methotrexatemay make medication less effective when used to treat cancer
phenytoin, carbamazepine, and valproate (anti-epileptic, anti-seizure medications)medications may reduce levels of folate in the blood; folate supplements may reduce blood levels of medications
sulfasalazine (ulcerative colitis medication)medication may inhibit the body from absorbing folate, leading to deficiency

Is folate and vitamin B12 the same thing?

No. Folate is the name for vitamin B9. Cobalamin is the name for vitamin B12.

How can I raise my folate levels quickly?

Supplementation may help you raise your levels quickly. It’s important to speak with your doctor before taking supplements to ensure you do not exceed the daily recommended dose for your age group.

Who shouldn’t take folic acid supplements?

Your doctor may not recommend taking folic acid if you have cancer, pernicious anemia, if you’re on hemodialysis, or have a coronary stent. You should also not take folic acid if you’re allergic to it.

Most people don’t need to overthink their folate intake. They likely get their daily requirement between the natural and fortified foods they eat. For other groups, like individuals of childbearing age, supplementation may be appropriate.

A healthcare professional can help you determine your individual folate needs and whether or not you have health conditions or take medications that may contradict supplementation.