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.
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 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
While more study is needed, there are several other areas where folate may provide
- reducing the risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
- reducing the risk of certain cancers, like colorectal cancer
- lowering homocysteine levels in the body, reducing the risk of heart attack, stroke, and dementia
- may lower the risk of depression and may help some antidepressants be more effective
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.
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:
|male||400 micrograms (mcg) of dietary folate equivalents (DFE)|
|female||400 mcg DFE|
|nursing||500 mcg DFE|
|pregnant||600 mcg DFE|
Amount of folate needed for children 13 years old and younger:
|6 months and under||65 mcg DFE|
|7–12 months||80 mcg DFE|
|1–3 years||150 mcg DFE|
|4–8 years||200 mcg DFE|
|9–13 years||300 mcg DFE|
Experts explain that
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:
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,
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:
- folic acid
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
|age||upper limit recommendation|
|1–3 years old||300 mcg|
|4–8 year old||400 mcg|
|9–13 years old||600 mcg|
|14–18 years old||800 mcg|
|19 years and older||1,000 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.
Signs and symptoms of this blood disorder include:
- difficulty concentrating
- heart palpitations
- shortness of breath
- sores on the tongue or inside the mouth
- changes to color of the hair, skin, or fingernails
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
|methotrexate||may 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.