Facts & Recommendations
Folic acid: natural and synthetic form
Folate is the natural form of vitamin B9 found in food, while folic acid used in dietary supplements is the synthesized form.
Folic acid must be metabolized and converted into folates in order to be actively used by the organism.
Folates are mainly found in green leafy vegetables such as spinach (green salad, broccoli), therefore it´s derived from the Latin word “folium”, which means “leaf”.
In addition pulses, yeast, wheat germ, liver, eggs and nuts are good sources of folic acid.
The bioavailability of natural food folates is lower than that of synthetic folic acid and is currently estimated at around 80% (relative bioavailability). Hence folic acid is highly bioavailable compared to folate.
The water-soluble vitamin B9 is extremely sensitive to light and heat. Depending on the storage conditions and the cooking method, the amount of vitamin can decrease up to 90% of the previous amount. It is therefore a challenge to cover your daily needs only through your diet, even if you have a varied and balanced diet.
If possible, prepare your meal by boiling or cooking the vegetables briefly, e.g. with a steam cooker.
Folate plays an important role in DNA synthesis. It is involved in cell division and growth processes. Folic acid is therefore essential for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers as it influences the formation of the maternal tissue (placenta), the spine, brain and nerve cells of the embryo, as well as the development of the newborn.
Further, folic acid supports the immune system, reduces fatigue and in association with vitamin B it regulates the homocysteine level in blood (that is associated with cardiovascular disease).
Consequences of a folic acid deficiency
A folic acid deficiency in pregnant women can lead to compliciations associated with the placenta, such as pre-eclampsia and foetal growth restriction, neural tube defects (NTDs), cleft lips and palates, urological disorders and heart defects as well as an increased risk of premature birth.
Several studies have shown that
- the use of oral contraceptive reduces the concentration of folate in the blood.
- Folic acid is necessary for fertility in men and women
- an adequate intake of folic acid before and during pregnancy is associated with a reduced risk of NTDs and other related risks, mainly occuring in the first trimester.
Since many women become pregnant without having it planned, or do not know that they are pregnant well into their first trimester, it is important to have an adequate folic acid intake.
Most health authorities worldwide recommend all women who intend to become pregnant to take a daily folic acid tablet (800 or 400 micrograms (µg)) at least four weeks before conception and until the end of the 12th week of pregnancy.
Healthcare specialists recommend to women with no personal health risks to take a daily folic acid supplement as follows:
- 800 µg folic acid after discontiuation of oral contraceptives until the 12th week of pregnancy
- 400 µg folic acid from the 13th week of pregnancy and during lactation.